Reclaiming our online identity

We were born into a weird age and, ‘90s nostalgia aside, it’s important to realize what a different time we’re living in right now.  I know it’s ...

We were born into a weird age and, ‘90s nostalgia aside, it’s important to realize what a different time we’re living in right now.  I know it’s mistaken to believe one time is more exceptional than the other —  every period in history since the Industrial Revolution has been the best until a new one came along — however, we do live exceptionally. The Internet is changing the world very quickly and the problem is, we don’t really know how. The invention of the printing press changed things in ways we couldn’t predict, but ultimately we were producing the same material simply at a greater and more efficient rate.  The Internet, on the other hand, is a beast of its own.
Before I go on, I would like to add a disclaimer. This piece deals with issues that concern a minority of the world’s population, and a fortunate minority at that. It’s easy to say that the spread of our personal information is hardly the worst thing in the world, but it is a problem that affects millions of people nonetheless, and I’m sure it is relevant to most of our readers. This might be the epitome of what is colloquially known as a First World problem, but it’s a big problem and we need to start addressing it soon.
People born early in the ‘80s are somewhat lucky in this regard. They grew up in a time when the Internet wasn’t as accessible; there was no YouTube or Facebook, and thus this generation adopted social media in their later years, once they had grown into mature and responsible adults. On the other hand, people who were born between 1998 to the present were born with the Internet. There simply wasn’t a time where there wasn’t a computer at home.
When the world is at your fingertips at such a young age, you’re prone to make some mistakes. This generation faces a different problem; every stupid decision a teenager makes will be recorded in the annals of time — every silly song on Youtube, every angry status on Facebook. Everything. This might catch up to them one day, or it might not. Whatever happens to the generations to come is dependent on how our generation decides to evaluate this normative grey area regarding our personalities and identities online.
Everything I write for The Gazelle can be instantly accessed by anyone. Sure, I’m proud of my article rejecting moral relativism, but what if an employer dislikes my article on the Israeli bus system? The problem is that we’re not quite sure what the consequences might be because it has never existed before. Past actions used to be of the past; any baggage a person had remained exclusively in their consciousness. Nowadays we carry everything with us. It has never been easier to see all of our old mistakes, all of our faux pas that might be meaningless now but, in the future, key to a potential employer or partner. I try not to display many photos in the presence of alcohol for a variety of reasons — where I live, who my friends are on Facebook etc., but I’m sure anyone with time to kill will find some. I know this topic has been covered before, and probably in more depth, but I still find that not enough people are talking about this. What happens when a future wife or a future boss finds those pictures we thought were left in the past? It would be naive to think they won’t make a moral judgment.
 So what is the solution? Should we change our behavior online, or should we change the way we judge what is online? Neither of these options is easy. It’s very hard to change our instinctive reactions to what we see or hear from people, especially if it’s not part of a large-scale societal change. It’s not easy to limit what we do on the Internet when the line between the real world and the virtual world is blurred, and it’s particularly hard to think long-term into the future to limit ourselves in the present. But whatever the solution may be, it’s a conversation that needs to happen. We need to realize that if we don’t solve this problem of how to deal with the online world, no one else will, because no one else has.
Andres Rodriguez is opinion editor. Email him at
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