Monday, August 22, 2011

Can we really start fresh? What of our cyber footprint?

Today was the first day of school for most of the children I know.  Whether it was voluntary Pre-Kindergarten or 5th grade or high school the start of a new school year always brings excitement and hesitation. Moving forward into new environment, people and concepts generally evokes feelings of nervousness.  The fresh start every year during out  school years prepares us for later life with the changing of places of employment and/or careers.   Starting fresh is not such a bad thing though. It is a chance to reinvent yourself into a better version of you, a chance to rectify any previous misconceptions and start over.

Each year, I always started school with new folders and paper, pens and pencils, and when starting a new project later in life I find that I always start with a fresh folder to stay organized.  Amazing how that little ritual has carried through life.  Many people just jump in both feet, no hesitation, and I have to admit that for most of my life I would jump first, however as I age I have become more careful with what I do. 

Even when posting things on line I try and stop and think about how the information will reflect back on me.  Everything seems to be saved on a server somewhere, so it is virtually impossible to erase a cyber footprint.  I would like to think that a fresh start is still possible, however as new employers do background checks and reference checks, there are also cyber footprint checks. 

I grow concerned knowing that the current middle and high school children that post on facebook or myspace are unaware that they are starting their cyber footprint so much earlier than I did.  The inevitable teenage dramas all played out on line and permanent. How will the teen years full of angst affect their future employability?  Well, I say I worry about the "children" but really, how many of us, myself included, don't pay enough attention to what we post?  What we put out into cyber space?

I'm thankful that after I made one tragic "send" mistake with  a memo that was full of sarcasm that I  re-learned the very valuable lesson of saving items to the draft box and walking away.  If, after some cooling off time, I feel a document, or posting, is worthy only then do I hit send or publish.  Hindsight is 20/20 but postings are permanent and don't always allow for hitting the delete or unsend buttons that we have grown accustomed to. 

In fact, one area where we really don't think about our cyber footprint is in the posting of photos.  I admit to being very non-photogenic.  There are few pictures of myself that I truly enjoy.  Unfortunately, some of them are not "professional" yet there they are out there in cyber space - part of my cyber  footprint.  What types of pictures are out there of any of us? Do we even know all the pictures that are out there?  Conferences, meetings, social gatherings, professional gatherings all seem to have cameras present, and who knows what pictures could be out there. 

I recall once, early in my career, when I first attended an industry conference representing my employer that a photograph was taken across the room.  Those seated at the table with me had been drinking beer in bottles throughout the evening.  When the picture was published in a statewide newsletter, there I sat, and from the angle of the picture it appeared there were approximately 12 beer bottles in front of me!  My supervisor called me in her office on that one.  Luckily, I am not a beer drinker, have never taken to the taste of beer and I was able to argue my innocence based on the fact that I do not drink beer. Yet that one picture taken from an unfortunate angle created a poor image of me through no wrong doing of my own.

So I sit and wonder, with the permanence of our cyber footprint, will any of us be able to truly start fresh?

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