Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Skeletons in the Closet

Halloween is coming up, and it’s time to talk about skeletons. No, not the kind that hang out with the ghosts, witches, and goblins, scaring little kids. I’m talking about the kind that are hiding in your closet, scaring you and threatening to ruin your career.

Everybody’s talking these days about how thanks to the Internet, people can dig up some of our deepest, darkest secrets and use them against us. Indeed, colleges and potential employers have been known to check out the Facebook and MySpace profiles of potential students or employees before making them offers, with the result that that one drunken picture of you holding up your middle finger to the camera could cost you a job offer.

In addition, “intimate” photographs that were meant only to be shared between you and a significant other can end up posted to the Internet to embarrass you after a breakup or by a roommate who had access to your significant other’s computer and wanted to have a little “fun.”

The snarky comment you posted online about wanting to “stick it to the man” back when you were in high school can come back to haunt you when the company you work for 10 years later has an important government contract, and you’re denied security clearance.

But I think this is just a fad. I hope this is just a fad. And this fad comes from our newly-found ability to dredge up stuff on people that was there all along, but that we just weren’t able to find before.

Let’s face it, we all have skeletons in our closets. We all said or did stupid things in high school or college that we wouldn’t want held against us now, and that we’re thankful that no one had the technology to find out about. Even the people who are doing the dredging have skeletons, which would make you think that they’d be a little more sensitive about it.

And what about those “intimate” pictures? As recently as 10 years ago a lot of those photographs wouldn’t have existed to be passed around by hand, let alone posted to the Internet. That’s because Kodak, or whoever the processor was, served as a filter. You could take all the intimate photos you wanted of someone, but unless you knew how to develop film yourself, you very likely wouldn’t ever get prints back of them. Sure, you could use a Polaroid to get “instant prints” that didn’t need to go out to be processed, but then you couldn’t get copies.

Then came the digital camera, and you could take pictures of anyone wearing (or not wearing) anything, and doing anything, without having to send them out to be processed. Now there was nothing to prevent you from taking a “funny” picture of your roommate on the toilet, and emailing it to 30 of your “closest friends.” And there was nothing to prevent one of those “friends” from posting the picture to the Internet, where millions of other people, including potential colleges and employers, could see it.

Once again, I’m hoping this is all just a fad. I’m hoping that once we realize that we all have skeletons in our closets, and that we all know stupid people with digital cameras, the novelty of being able to find those skeletons will wear off. I’m hoping that once we realize that we all have skeletons in our closets, one drunken or naked (or drunken naked) photograph won’t sabotage a career.

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