We are all an open book

Summary:The problem is not the Web's lack of anonymity. The problem is our attitude toward living as though we're on TV, because sometimes you're going to be the windshield, and sometimes the bug.

Eric Schmidt made some headlines last week when he predicted people will change their names in order to avoid their online past.

Let's cut the man some slack. He was working before the Web was spun. Without that slack, it may be the dumbest thing said all year.

Suw Charman-Anderson responded with something almost as stupid. The Web's not that smart.

Yes it is.

Google me today and you'll get about 36,100 results. Bing has me 113,000 times. They're all accurate because, thanks to a quirk of my German-Irish-Polish heritage, I'm the only one of me there is. (Dana's etymology is Polish.)

My late friend Russell Shaw, by contrast, had his name on a brand-builder, a music composer, and a former football star, among others.

Point is, we're all Google-able. Changing your name won't help. Not being found is becoming almost as much a cause for suspicion as finding you said something stupid once upon a time.

And I have. Many times. I have a troll who loves reminding me of one such bit of intemperance. His aim is, simply, to discredit my work, which is what people fear when they say they have lost their privacy to the Web. They fear that one mistake will haunt them forever.

The best advice I ever got in journalism school came in an early lecture, in 1977. Live your life like you're on TV, I was told. As a journalist you are a public figure. I have not always lived up to that charge well, but I have remembered it, and it has given me some important advice for anyone who must look anyone else in the eye in the age of the Web.

Forgive.

We are all fallible. We all screw up. We all say stupid things, and do stupid things. What matters is what we  are today, what I can do for you today.

In other words, look at the code, not the coder. And understand that just as they're an open book to you, so you and your company are an open book to them.

Seek to build your credibility, every day, in every way you can. Contribute to good deeds, by coding if you can, by bug collecting or using beta code or by just writing if you can't. And take that attitude into the world with you.

When we're young, we're young. When we're angry, we act out. When we're tempted, we may fall. In some jobs we may fail. And the Web never forgets.

But we're not the Web. That's our advantage. We can forgive, we can balance our judgments of one another, we can change our minds, we can change. Each day is a new opportunity -- sounds corny but I really believe it.

The problem is not the Web's lack of anonymity. The problem is our attitude toward living as though we're on TV, because sometimes you're going to be the windshield, and sometimes the bug.

Living in an open book can be liberating. At least you're being read.

Topics: Browser

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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