I’m thinking this morning about the perils of online communication. We all know that a word once spoken can’t really be taken back, no matter how hard one tries to do so. Much more so if one writes it down and releases it to the public. In the old days, if you wrote a letter, you had some time to consider what you wrote. You might even go back and retrieve it from the mailbox. The age of email and instant communication has changed all that. I would be surprised to find anyone who has been online for very long who had not sent an email he wishes he could recall. How many public embarrassments have we seen in recent years because supposedly private email got shared with the world? Nothing that leaves your computer can really be considered private, though for most of us the risk of that steamy love letter you wrote ever making the nightly news is pretty small.
Not so with public forums. If you blog, chat online, post to a discussion group or mailing list, share on a social network such as Facebook, leave product reviews, etc, everything you said is likely to be retained for years to come. Even if your identity is shielded, a determined researcher could probably trace it back to you. Again, for most of us that’s not a problem, but it is something to be aware of. It could have a real impact on your future. For example, would you want a potential employer, or your current one for that matter, to be able to stumble into your rants about how much you hate your job or what an idiot your boss is? I hasten to add that I don’t feel that way. The reason will become clear shortly.
Social networks present a whole new set of considerations. I wonder if people think about who is reading or could be reading the things they post online. Email has been around long enough to have an established code of etiquette. The same can be said for online chatting. I haven’t seen one for social networks yet, but I’m sure somebody has composed one. At best it can only be a set of general guidelines, since what one considers annoying another may consider a part of the experience that makes it unique. I’m thinking of multiple or trivial status updates as one example. I’ve read rants about it, and as with anything else it can be taken to excess, but to me it’s part of the charm of the venue. I know some of my friends now better than I ever did even though I haven’t seen them in years.
I read an article a few months ago about the pitfalls of “unfriending” someone. If he is one you might meet in person it can create an awkward situation. What do you do with a friend request you really don’t want? Again it’s going to get complicated if you meet this person face to face. Facebook seems to have quietly acknowledged this problem by allowing you to block friends’ updates from posting to your home page without dropping them completely. What do you do with a friend request from a coworker? What if it’s your boss? What choice do you really have? Fortunately I like mine, but I can’t say it doesn’t cause me to be a little more careful what I say. I’m also less likely to say it during office hours. That’s a little accountability I don’t mind having. It definitely reduces the temptation to punch the little button on my desk and peek at Facebook on my home machine during the day.
Speaking of that, it’s past time to be at work and I’ve just had to dial into a meeting I forgot. I don’t feel too guilty though after having been online until after 1:00 in the morning. I’m going to cut this short and go ahead and post it because it has been too long since I wrote something.