Teresa Ovalle

Welcome to Me

You Will Not Be Forgotten

on February 24, 2014

Country Singer Brad Paisley sang a song called Online about a kid who was everything you didn’t want to be, but when he was online, the kid was everything you wish you could be.  Here is a verse of the song:

“’Cause online, I’m out in Hollywood

I’m 6 foot 5, and I look damn good

I drive a Maserati, I’m a black-belt in karate

And I love a good glass of wine”

The song was written in 2007 when people still managed to have an offline persona and an online persona.  People could be who they wanted to be, not who they really were.  This is a good example of the hyperpersonal model – people could self-edit their online personalities to be who they wish they were.

To paraphrase, the hyperpersonal model is an interpersonal communication theory that suggests that online communication can be hypersonal in that online communication offers advantages over face-to-face communication such as strategically developing and editing an online persona, which enables a selective and optimized online identity.  (Walther)

The Brad Paisley song is funny, but the reality of it is that the internet forgets nothing and is very unforgiving.  The internet has a tendency to remember everything you did from the moment you created an online personality to now – the moment you are currently living in.  I don’t think the hyperpersonal model is in effect today as it was in the past, but it’s a good point to make when discussing the ‘foreverness’ of the internet.  I think this is especially important for today’s youth to understand.

Ninety five percent of teens from 12 to 17 are online and 81% use social media. (Teens Fact Sheet).  This likely means that 81% of teens 12 to 17 are involved in some kind of online community that requires a profile and encourages sharing their thoughts, pictures and ideas with others.  The proverb, “It take a village to raise a child” is still accurate, but that village is now online.  The village is where kids learn about social norms and interacting with others.

As Boyd states, “By interacting with unfamiliar others, teenagers are socialized into society.  Without publics, there is no coherent society.  Publics are where norms are set and reinforced, where common ground is formed.” (pg. 21)  Kids will be kids, however, and many will share their thoughts pictures and ideas with others that may seem harmless at the time, but may come back to haunt them in the future.

The internet is unforgiving.  As Rosen clearly states, “… the internet is shackling us to everything that we have ever said, or that anyone has said about us, making the possibility of digital self-reinvention seem like an ideal from a distant era.” (pg. 4)  So for a 15-year-old who takes an inappropriate selfie and posts it to Facebook today, and then someday hopes to become a city mayor, that selfie may be the demise of his dreams.  I don’t think most kids are thinking of their future.  I think most kids are trying to fit in with their peers and to learn how to be a part of the village or public.

The challenge with online villages is that they are online.  Boyd points out four properties of mediating technologies that challenge the online village: persistence, replicability, searchability and invisible audiences. (pg. 8)

In this context, persistence means that the communication is synchronous (occurring and coinciding at the same time), but also includes the length of time the communication is in existence.  Once it’s posted online, it’s there forever.  Searchability means that because the communication is recorded, that anyone can find it with a few key strokes.  Replicability means that the communication can be copied verbatim from one place to another with no distinction as to which copy is a copy or which is the original.  Invisible audiences mean that it’s impossible to know who has seen the communication, this is exasperated by the fact that people will see the communication at different times, possibly on different platforms.  (Boyd, pg. 9)

I think kids like online communities because they can express themselves with like-minded people.  They can be themselves with little fear of retribution and experience life virtually through themselves and others.   I also think that Boyd’s four mediating technologies are something to be watchful of as a youth, or even as an adult.  Rosen says it best “… a society in which everything is recorded will forever tether us to all our past actions, making it impossible, in practice, to escape them.”

You will not be forgotten.  The internet won’t allow it.  So before you post that cute, funny or compromising selfie, consider where it might go, who might see it, how easy it is to find and how long it will be available to others.  And realize that the things you post today could harm you tomorrow.

References:

Walther, J., & Burgoon, J. (1992). Relational communication in computer-mediated interaction. Human Communication Research, 19(1), 50–88.

Teens Fact Sheet

http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/teens-fact-sheet/

Rosen, J. (2010, July 21). The Web means the end of forgetting. New York Times.

Boyd, d. (2007). Why youth (heart) social network sites: The role of networked publics in teenage social life. In D. Buckingham (Ed.), Youth, Identity, and Digital Media (pp. 119-142). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.