Old Advice for a New Age


bookWe’ve all seen the story played out somewhere—in a TV sitcom or a storybook or maybe even real life. A girl takes her diary to school and it ends up in the wrong hands, read by the wrong people, and the entire school yard is abuzz about her secret crush on a boy in the next grade or some other embarrassing tidbit. She goes home and cries to her mother about it, and her mother, though understanding, admonishes her never to write down anything that she doesn’t want everybody to read.

That would be it. The event would be terribly embarrassing but limited to the school yard. The memory of the incident might be indelibly etched into the girl’s memory, but would pass from the minds of everyone else.

My mother always told me never to write down anything that I wouldn’t want everybody to read. It’s old fashioned advice, but perhaps ever more important and increasingly relevant in this electronic age. The advent of media like e-mail, text messages, camera phones, blogs, Twitter, social networking sites such as Facebook and My Space, and even professional networking sites like LinkedIn, have upped the stakes when a person writes something that gets read by the wrong person. No longer is the buzz limited to the school yard; its audience stretches across the globe. And unlike a diary or letter that can be burned and destroyed forever, once your message (or picture) is out in cyberspace, there is no erasing it. It can be copied, pasted, posted and commented on ad nauseum.

A popular blog posting on WordPress.com last week was titled “How to Tweet Yourself Out of a Job.” This blog posting related an account of a person who was just offered a job at Cisco Systems. She had a Twitter account, and after getting the job offer she “tweeted” that now she had to weigh a good salary against a long commute and work she would hate.

Her Twitter was read by a person associated with Cisco Systems, who tweeted back:
“Who is the hiring manager? I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web.” The new hire attempted to make her Twitter account private, but a Twitter search retained the record.

In response to that story, one reader commented “Never write anything on the internet that you wouldn’t want to see written on your grave.” A second said, “Never write anything that you wouldn’t want your mother to read.” A third advised, “If it’s not something you would shout from a mountaintop, you probably don’t want to post it on the internet.”

If you were speaking directly to someone, you would stop and think before you spoke. If you are blogging, texting or tweeting, stop and think before you type. Do you really want to be permanently associated with the words you are about to type?

Prospective employers search Facebook and My Space in their vetting of applicants. Current employers can do the same. If you are in sales and trying to land a big account, be careful, you never know if a friend of a friend on Facebook is a decision maker in the deal.

It’s a new world we live in, one with instantaneous communications, and one in which good, old-fashioned common sense will take you a long way. Think before you type.

© 2009 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

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