Digital footprint & virtual reputations

I’m part of the generation that the internet became a thing; the transition phase i.e. Gen Y. So I remember growing up without laptops, smart phones/watches or tablets for most of my primary school years in the early 90s, and then venturing on to MSN messenger in the early 00s to pointlessly talk to the same kids I saw during the day. Desktops were becoming a thing in the 90s growing up. My computer experience consisted of SkiFree or 3D Pinball, some Carmen Sandiago or Magic School Bus adventure and whatever lucky dip CDs my Dad let me buy from the Duffy Book catalogue for our desktop at home.

Then as a teenager, social media was born.  Myspace was more popular overseas but Bebo was the buzz here in Aotearoa. My friends and I created profiles on both virtual playgrounds. Teenagers of the early 2000s could now re-confirm our insecurities around the clock. Sending hearts, asking to be in another person’s top 16 and posting grainy photos from some point and shoot camera.

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Then phones became more common, Kelly Rowland was able to send texts through excel spreadsheet and you get the rest of the story. I’ve been fortunate to have game consoles and desktops like most middle-ish class kids growing up in the 90s, so my digital navigation isn’t too shabby. But I dread to think what my initial search engine histories were like, let alone my general digital footprint since data and internet has become more and more accessible accessible, particularly during my pubescent years *cringe*. Don’t know how to do something? Google it. Too scared to ask your parents about it? Google it. Someone asking you something you don’t know? Tell them to Google it.

Fast forward to my 20-somethings, I started piecing together a patchwork career in spaces that I thought I could contribute some positive value to – that fit the story I wanted my life to tell. This meant connecting with lots of people I had no networks in and putting my best foot forward so they’d want to work with me.

Naturally when people get your CV for a work opportunity, they will complete a background check via your references, certifications and virtual presence. Because no one wants to hire someone that isn’t fit-for-purpose or at least doesn’t have the base attitude to be developed into fit-for-purpose. I didn’t have any serious cringe-worthy photos online or subscriptions to questionable websites. A google search of my name was mostly littered with articles or posts about the voluntary work I had done throughout university degrees. That being said, I did have:

  • A public video I edited of me and my girlfriend partying in Thailand – my attempt at trying to be influencer-esque (my edit was crap).
  • A few photos from some TFP contracts I’d done – including one with me dressed up as cat woman and one of me wearing nothing but the New Zealand flag.
  • Posed party-shots on my Facebook page that weren’t private.

Granted, one of my employers saw the first of those and I was still hired. I don’t know if that would’ve been the same outcome if he’d seen the TFP shots given the #MeToo climate. I had actually asked the photographer months beforehand to remove my photos from his online portfolio (THANK YOU PAST ME – but not past past me who thought that kind of photoshoot was a good idea in the first place).

I only properly started to clean up my online act toward the end of university. During my earlier years, I wanted to be “relevant and cool” with the crowds I mixed in. Now, I simply dgaf. I’m much more comfortable in my identity than I was in my early 20s, I like who I am and who I’m striving to be. That person doesn’t engage in TFPs and likes a whole lot of privacy now. However, even that being said, the decision to have an online presence at all is so easily made, without thinking of the layers and consequences of each digital decision one makes. I know I easily toss these decisions aside to get the information I desire whenever, where ever and from whatever agency/organisation is giving it on the other side.

This is definitely something I want to explore a little more given we’re in the age of big data, control over that data is blurry and all the policy implications on personal sovereignty (i.e. choice) that arise. For now, I’ll continue to clean up my online presence, try not to watch too many movies like Unfriended and check the encryption on any photos posted of myself online.

 

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