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Saturday, January 12, 2008

This will be going on your Permanent Record

When I was a kid those were the most terrifying words you could hear. Your Permanent Record. We didn't even know what this was: some sort of sheaf of indestructible papers filled out in unerasable ink, perhaps, which contained a meticulous record of every major infraction you had committed - or were suspected of having committed. And it would be automatically filled out in triplicate, or quadruplicate, or quintuplicate, with copies sent to your parents, and the police, and any schools you might be attending in the future, to be forwarded later to any prospective college or employer. Your record is exceptional, Mr. Johnson...but I see in the third grade you were caught drawing a picture of a nun pooping on a desk. I'm sorry, I'm afraid we can't hire you.

That was a million years ago.

Today kids create their own permanent records. Literally - more literally than any of them realize. Every little I-like-violence website, every YouTube rant and diatribe, every garishly styled and grammatically reprehensible MySpace site, every blog entry and blog comment, - every one of these is another fingerprint left on the Internet. Every one is another entry in their own permanent record.

It's not just kids. Some full-fledged "adults", considered as such by virtue of their age if not necessarily their maturity, snipe and spout off as regularly and vehemently online as moody, hormone-fuelled fourteen-year-olds. Sometimes they think better of this afterwards, and try to erase the evidence and cover their tracks. But the Internet is very good at creating a permanent record of anything posted on it - and anything posted on the Internet can easily be grabbed and re-stored elsewhere, suddenly making it virtually impossible to recall and erase.

And, of course, it's not just people spouting off radical opinions or ranting mindlessly. It's admissions of petty crimes and wrongdoing, statements of belief or sexual orientation, even expressions of political opinion - all of which can and will be held against you somewhere along the line.

And then there are the boobies. All those boobies.

Yes, the Internet is also the world's greatest porno shop, where any variety of pornography can be located with just a few words typed into a Google search box. Untold numbers of young ladies have taken the opportunity to display for free (or for a very reasonable cost, payable via PayPal) those things that a few years ago might have garnered them a modest modeling fee, and a few years before that, half of a man's worldly possessions. It's not just the Internet, of course; how many aspiring teachers and politicians and scientists and executives have seen their career hopes dashed by having years before drunkenly flashed their tits for the cameras of Girls Gone Wild and other such organizations?

Not that I'm saying there's necessarily anything inherently wrong with that - though others will. I loves me the ladies, and I loves me the boobies. (Oh, geez, did I just type that? Note to self: Go back later and erase that last bit.) But until society has fundamentally changed in ways that it's not necessarily going to change, flashing your tits for a camera crew or a little webcam on top of your computer monitor will continue to be a very risky career move. And let us all remember The First Rule of Pornography:*

THE PICTURES ARE FOREVER.

Thanks to things like Google's caching of websites and the Internet Wayback Machine, other things posted on the Internet can be forever, too.

There is hope, of course. Back in the olden days of espionage during the Cold War, when things were simple and comprehensible to mere mortals, the United States and the Soviet Union would spy on each other by monitoring "secure" radio transmissions leaking from the other side's embassies. In one case, our once and future mortal enemies found their attempts to record useful signals coming out of one embassy were foiled by the sheer number of signals vomiting forth across the broadcast spectrum, essentially setting up a situation where the signals became noise, and no one coherent signal could be extracted. (This would most likely not be an intractable situation for today's technology.) Similarly, the sheer amount of noise being pumped onto the Internet by a nearly infinite number of monkeys with a nearly infinite number of typewriters means that any particular website or comment or set of boobies is likely to be buried under millions of others.

Maybe. For now. Someday technology may improve to the point where any given signal can be extracted from the mass of noise that is the Internet. For now we should all assume that with each and every image and keystroke, we are all adding to the things that are going on our Permanent Records.

*I didn't just make this up. I heard it from some porn actress on a VH1 or MTV special on pornography. Why VH1 or MTV were doing a special on pornography, I have no idea. I came across the show while channel-surfing and only watched for a few minutes. Honest.

7 comments:

anne said...

This would be an excellent start for a movie. Some sort of futuristic comedy, or maybe a thriller, and it all traces back to Youtube and Blogger.

I guess it would have to be a comedy.

Jennifer said...

Is this post your attempt to get more hits? I mean, now, any time someone searches for "monkey" and "p*rn," they're gonna get you! :-)

D.B. Echo said...

Considering that I'm the #1 result for "headless rabbit", I suppose I will now also be the #1 result for "headless rabbit porn"!

Anonymous said...

This entry is on your permanent record, DB, so at this point you've attested that you know or should have known that all this would be attributed to you :)

BTW, this is one reason I'm anonymous online. I figured it out back in the 90s, when a letter I wrote to CNN and to Salon showed up in search engines years afterward.

At that point, I was like ... hey, this could affect my job prospects in the future.

Fortunately, the Wayback Machine isn't all that accurate. You can remove posts and they'll flush out of the system (at least if you get them soon enough). Google caches also flush after a few months.

And even those Salon letters are way way way down the Google searches.

The key, IMHO, is not to have a unique name, and if you do, don't sign your name to anything you wouldn't publish on the front page of your daily newspaper. Another reason for my anonymity -- I've worked for years as a writer and had to exercise discipline in my writing. My anono-blog is a place, for a while, where I could just write anything I chose.

You were pretty smart to avoid signing your name to it.

But the key to the whole thing is to be named John Smith.

IB Bill

D.B. Echo said...

Bill, would you believe me if I told you that none of this post was written with you in mind? Well, except for the parts about flashing your boobies online....I knew that webcam was a bad idea...

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

Scary but true.

Anonymous said...

I didn't think it was about me ... I was just generally commenting because it's an important topic and an important warning, and I was amplifying some of what you said by talking my own thinking and experiences. That is, I'm agreeing with you.

But you're right about the webcam; there was something about that thing that made me want to flash the world :)

Bill @ BN