We are all an open book

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.

TOPICS: Browser

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.


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.

Topic: Browser

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  • You're talking about ending gossip

    That just ain't gonna happen.
    Roger Ramjet
    • RE: We are all an open book

      @Roger Ramjet I don't think I am. I'm talking, in part, about changing our attitude toward it, and understanding that we are all its subject, and can be subjected to it, before we go off half-baked and use it to destroy others.
      • RE: We are all an open book

        @DanaBlankenhorn : Very true. It's easy to spak ill of people. The "good" is expected and simply doesn't often show up at all. For instance, if another journalist said bad thinigs about you, you might care but if a reader, like me, did that, it's certainly no skin off your nose because I and those like me really have little idea of your overall accomplishments; as a reader, it's a simple opinion and no more. Even if I said something like "you worked for the communist party in the 50's", it's nonsense and of no value to anyone when the source is a post on the internet. I can twst words, excerpt what pieces I want, and so on: The fool will be the one trying to make an issue out of it.
    • RE: We are all an open book

      @Roger Ramjet : Well said. And that's more true today than it ever has been on the web! Whether ther iis any truth to any of the spew is wide open to question and 99% of the time it's balderdash; truly useless words often written by an even more useless person when it comes to the negative side of any issue. It's silly to think non-professional, unverified sources and claimed people's opinions hav any weight to them at all. Mountains and milehills.
      OTOH it's newbies who will actually get caught up in this stuff. Education for web travel is non-exisntant, too. Try to help instead of pointing out how "doomed" they might be and educate, not pontificate.
  • RE: We are all an open book

    Well, my grandparents grew up in a small town and they claim that living like your life is an open book is a horrific experience . When everyone knows your business, you had better be the exact same as everyone else or you will be ostracised, belittled, and in some cases just "disappear". I mean by "disappear" is some community minded person will hit you on the head with a shovel, and bury you body where nobody will find it. You can also expect that if you manage to avoid "disappearing" you will be turned down for permits, jobs, and other public services. So we will be returning to the days of the Salem Witch Trials, where anyone who is just a tiny bit different will be publicly hung and vilified. Even if you manage to somehow avoid most of the social/economic/religious/legal repercussions of being "different", you can expect to be treated like "those people from the other side of the rail road tracks."

    May be humans have evolved since the days of my grandparents but I don't think so.

    The recent news articles and noise about the Muslim Community Center in New York City is a great example on how the Internet has failed to "enlighten" or "exhibit rationality" on the part of humans. No matter how someone "feels" about this, there is a rational way of looking at it. It just doesn't really matter because very few people involved in the discussion are rational or want to be rational. The Internet hasn't spread "rationality", it has spread memes, partial information, opinions, and emotionality. These things are all part of being human and having them exposed really hasn't done much "rational good".
    Just for information, I support freedom of religion, I personally wish the owners of the community center had taken the feelings of others into consideration but I don't think they should have to back out of their project either.
  • RE: We are all an open book


    Very interesting post.

    I have to disagree with one point. I don't think that Schmidt's comment was stupid in the least. It shows that he was a ware of the unique desire for both fame and privacy, and understood that many people would go to great lengths (such as changing their name) to try and have it all. That's not stupid. It might even be thought of as insightful. (If you were both drunk at a party.)

    But the comment was still terribly naive, as you point out. As technology progresses, even changing your name to disown your past would likely be futile.

    Consider, we already have consumer level tools that can search the Internet and identify faces. Additionally, researchers are working on algorithms that can detect whether someone wrote a particular piece of prose by looking at its style and word choice. Some of the research tools are quite accurate and I've heard that plagiarism software might begin to incorporate them. Of course, they will only get better with time; which, of course, means that people can track your presence via your writing.

    To say nothing of tracking us by our associations. I don't particularly like Facebook, so I don't use it. However, my family absolutely loves it. So, I have an account.

    The other day when I signed into Facebook, I was mortified to find that I had been tagged in some 15 pictures. One family member had been cleaning the house and found a box of photos that spanned twenty years. She, naturally, posted them all and then sent links to to the people who were in them. These pictures included childhood antics that should not only be forgotten, but any evidence should be thoroughly destroyed. Even though I'm absolutely passive on Facebook, a stranger could find all kinds of information about me including quotes, stories and pictures. (Some of which are simply humiliating.) This simply goes to show that I can be stalked by the evidence of my passing.

    As more aspects of our lives move to the digital realm and as we generate more real time data, and as that data gets broadcast via the Internet the problem is going to get worse. There is no privacy. Which, of course, means that every mistake, misstep, utterance and action can be put under the microscope. Nor will the account of the error always be yours. If you've lived a ... colorful ... life, there may be serious incentive to disown the past and start over. I think that's all that Schmidt is saying. Nor is it something that most people seem to realize, yet.

    Unfortunately, it is also probably impossible.
    Rob Oakes
    • RE: We are all an open book

      @Rob Oakes We were all kids once, and did things like those depicted, which we later find shame in. We can do stupid and shameful things as adults, say stupid and shameful things.

      You are right that our own attitudes have not marched as fast as the Internet has marched. I am calling for us to engage in a little soul searching and consider changing some of those attitudes, toward others, and toward our past selves.
      • RE: We are all an open book

        @DanaBlankenhorn: And I think that is a tremendously noble and wonderful challenge. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that it is something that will happen in the near future, and possibly not ever. Human creatures enjoy being small minded and judgmental, and they enjoy gossip. (There are even academic studies that show gossip helps to build and strengthen communities.)<br><br>People have also been calling for human beings to be kinder, more understanding and better than they are now. Regardless, we're still struggling with the same list of vices that were supposedly banned in the cradle of civilization and appeared on the Tablets of Moses.<br><br>The Internet might be the impetus which causes us to change, but I'm not really counting on it.
        Rob Oakes
  • RE: We are all an open book

    As I've said before, humans acting like someone is always watching may be preferable - at least it should cut down on rudeness ;-)

    I'm more interested in the disparity between Google and Bing

    36,100 to 113,000?

    Why the difference Dana?
  • Forgiveness?

    Dana, we've got a troll on the COBOL blogs who makes your art critic look like an amateur. I figure he's a 75 year old ex programmer. My question, who died and left these clowns as the arbiters of behavior? Really get tired of people who figure they have a right to negative criticism.