Strong opinions, weakly held

When everything is recorded

Bruce Schneier’s essay on the fading future of ephemeral conversation is thought-provoking:

This has changed. We chat in e-mail, over SMS and IM, and on social networking websites like Facebook, MySpace, and LiveJournal. We blog and we Twitter. These conversations — with friends, lovers, colleagues, members of our cabinet — are not ephemeral; they leave their own electronic trails.

We know this intellectually, but we haven’t truly internalized it. We type on, engrossed in conversation, forgetting we’re being recorded and those recordings might come back to haunt us later.

I don’t think this is right. Some people haven’t internalized it, but many have. This is, in part, what I was getting at in my levels of candor post.

There are a huge number of things I would never say about a coworker in email. There’s a large number I wouldn’t say over instant messenger. The same goes for texting and voice mail. Some things are only worth saying on the phone or even face to face. I’ve been online in some fashion for over two decades, and I’m a fairly private person to start with, so I am very careful about not saying things that are going to turn up later.

Indeed, these days posting words, photos, and videos online is sort of like getting tattoos. Think ahead, because they’re going to be around forever whether you want them or not.

What I wonder, though, is whether we’re going to see some kind of crest in terms of how harshly people are punished for their previous online behavior. When there are embarrassing photos of everyone online, then by definition their existence will no longer be sensational.


  1. Maybe it’s a good thing?

    I mean, the reason for these things to be embarrassing is just that they’re supposedly not what everyone would do. But in reality, everyone does them.

    Even if it sounds a bit pompous, I think it might lead to a more tolerant culture.

  2. Rafe,

    From what I hear, kids these days–in addition to walking on my lawn–don’t have such strong internal filtering mechanisms are us old guys do, which leads me to one of two conclusions:

    1. People who’ve grown up with these technologies really do view them differently than we do, or
    2. Young’uns just don’t yet have as well developed sense of discretion as we have.

    If I were a betting man, I’d bet more heavily on #2.

  3. I think your tattoo analogy is spot-on.

  4. in addition to the levels of candor aspect, there’s the How Much Trail aspect — i.e., I don’t want to use gmail as my default because everything’s being archived. I presume that my office is less interested in keeping every blip I’ve sent forth…

  5. Actually, due to SOX, your office is potentially legally required to keep every blip you send forth, acm…

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