Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Digital Footprint 4-Ever

In my Q & A post I wrote about how I'd indeed made friends with people I'd met online. I think that is really easy to do when you're an expat in a foreign country. As a foreign resident of a city far from home, many people will Google the city and come up with a list of blogs authored by people living there. I know I have done it, many times. Sometimes it's helpful, sometimes it's not. I strive to be helpful, but I also don't want to sugarcoat the challenges I face on a daily basis living abroad. However, I also don't use this space to air all my grievances, and believe me, some days I have a lot. But it's not a good idea to lay your dirty laundry out for all the world wide web to see. It's a small world, after all. Case in point:

Last night I came across the blog of someone I have personally never met, but someone who is part of one of the many circles I'm a part of here. In most of her posts, she spews anger and shares every bit of her thoughts on what is wrong with Shanghai and saves some choice words for her husband's company (which she doesn't name, but I know where he works). In the most recent post, she mocks a group of friends. She is not a teenager, and her blog is not on Tumblr (which tends to be pretty unfiltered and raw), so I'm assuming she knows her words can and will be read by people in Shanghai, and perhaps even the exact people she refers to. After all, I found it, without directly looking for it really.

My head was spinning, wondering if I should contact her, and if I did, if it would help. After all, if I got criticism from a complete stranger, even if it was polite and caring, would it change my way of doing things? Probably not. I'm stubborn so I'd probably dig in even deeper. While I don't really believe in karma, I think things will likely come back around and she'll figure this all out on her own. Hopefully without major repercussions.

This situation brings to mind how the digital world is now that permanent record the principal warned us of in our young school days. I came across myself of 17 years ago on the web recently, some shadow of a job board which has my name, address, and phone number (from 13+ moves ago) when I was trying to get more work as a PA in the film industry. The actual site where I'm listed is long gone, but there's the record of the former site, still in a cache online.

A photographer friend of mine recently went to Vietnam, and when he thought he was transferring photos off his memory stick, he was actually deleting them. He was devastated, of course. Who wouldn't be? But arriving back in Shanghai, another friend of his was able to still extract those deleted files, and the photos were saved. Which tells me that nothing in the digital world is really ever truly deleted, gone forever, safe from the eyes of future (or current!) employers or schools.

In years past, I remember feeling some pity for childhood stars who grow up awkwardly in the public eye, where every pimple, wardrobe malfunction, and bad break up became news. In my eyes, the lack of privacy in those formative years was stunning. However, today anyone and everyone can have that same lack of privacy thanks to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and a dozen other online social platforms which we ourselves use to put everything out there. It's strange to see movies like The Truman Show go from feeling like a cautionary tale in 1998 to something many people aspire to in 2014. What will another 16 years from now look like in 2030? And how do I even prepare my sons to be cautious and protect their images now against whatever future technology is waiting to enter the world stage?

Just this week I came across a paper journal my oldest son has been keeping for three years, ever since we moved to Macau. He'd torn out every page and ripped them into small pieces and shoved it in a drawer to hide it from me, afraid of what my reaction would be if I found it. I didn't disappoint in my complete shock over what he'd done. When questioned, he said he didn't want it anymore, didn't want anyone to have access to the private thoughts and feelings on the pages. Though I'm devastated by what he did (none of us ever read it, but I do encourage both kids to get their feelings out in words and drawings in journals, and I treasure my own crazy journals from my teenage years), I think I need to use it as a teachable moment, and share how putting those thoughts and feelings (and photos) online means never having the option to ever rip up and destroy those words at some future point.

And may this also be a polite and gentle reminder to everyone that nothing we ever do online remains unseen. In the illustrious words of rapper Ice Cube, check yourself before you wreck yourself.


  1. One of my very dear friends always says, "If you wouldn't want to see it on the front page of the New York Times - don't write it down." While I don't think anything I've ever written would merit that kind of attention, it's a pretty good yardstick. It could be that your friend with the blog is well aware that her veil of anonymity is quite thin - maybe she's getting a little passive-aggressive enjoyment out of posting her mean comments in a 'publicly anonymous' way. I agree, though - no point in saying anything, and she may well have her reasons for doing it the way she does it. As far as your son's journal goes - he may someday regret having destroyed those words, or he may think back on what he wrote and cringe, happy they no longer exist - I had quite a few journals like that - but at least he's thinking about his privacy and how to maintain it - not something adolescents think too much about these days.

  2. Oh MsC, that is so true. Who knows what her motivation is. I have a post that keeps coming across as a little mean that I keep editing and editing. Who knows if it will ever see the light of day and get published. We'll see...


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