I’m going to sound old for a moment. I promise it’s in service of something good, so bear with me, OK? Here goes:
I am so thankful that I grew up before the widespread use of the internet, blogs and online social networking. (Heck, I didn’t even have email until college. Yes, I’m really that old.) You know why? Because when I grew up and started trying to be taken seriously as a professional, there was no digital trail of my youth to hold me back. And I assure you – there would have been a trail.
Would I have sexted my high school boyfriend, Andy? Would I have sent him explicit emails and NSFW pictures of myself? You bet I would have. I wanted to have sex with Andy all the time, every day, but between parental supervision and the hour drive that separated us, we got to be together in private a lot less than that. We would have been thrilled to have digital means to get it on with each other. (As it was, I was only allowed to talk with him for 10 minutes every day. This was before cell phones, too, and there was only one line in my house. I told you I was old.)
Would Andy have deliberately shared my private messages with anyone? I doubt it. He was a pretty good guy. But he miiiight have shown a little sample to his BFF Tom, just to brag a little. And Tom miiiiiight have decided to play a practical joke on Andy by stealing the photo or message and posting it to his Facebook wall. You see where I’m going with this.
But let’s say that didn’t happen. Let’s say Tom couldn’t figure out how to steal the photo, or Andy never showed it to him, or I never sent it. Let’s say I got through high school with nary a pixel’s indication that I’m anything but sexually pure. But then, at college, I decide to start keeping a blog of my life on campus – including my dating exploits. Or maybe I decide to write for the school paper, and I put together a first-person expose of an underground sexual culture on campus. I write about sexuality all the time now – it’s not hard to imagine I would have done it then. And that’s exactly what one Harvard student did – he wrote a very popular piece for the Crimson about his "use of Craigslist to look for sex with closeted Harvard jocks." Now, according to this story about him that aired on On The Media in December, he’s legally changing his name so that he can become a teacher without that article haunting him. Here’s what he had to say about the decision:
[The Crimson article] was a big hit. It’s my number one Google result, of course. But now, you know, three years later, I find that I’d really like to be an elementary school teacher. So I’m really wary of the possibility of that, you know, a 10-year-old kid coming across this, because, you know, if I were, like, in fourth grade I’d be googling my teachers all the time…
I picture a kid saying, I googled you last night and I found a really funny article or a really weird article. I picture losing my authority, in some ways, you know. I feel like I would have made a joke of myself in front of my students. There’s parents googling. I mean, I guess that’s another huge fear.
And even if I were hired by a school that was really understanding and might take the position of, well, you know, he was in college and things happen, I don’t really want to put any of my future employers in that position, of having to defend that.