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June 27, 2007


It's of course inevitable that Tom Friedman would fall solidly under the spell of a book entitled "How." The man is a human airport nonfiction table -- he can't help himself. Give him a single-word title with an overeager thesis and he's set. But though wrapped in gauzy examples and odd rhetoric, what How appears to have taught Friedman is all too widely believed:

For young people, writes Seidman, this means understanding that your reputation in life is going to get set in stone so much earlier. More and more of what you say or do or write will end up as a digital fingerprint that never gets erased. Our generation got to screw up and none of those screw-ups appeared on our first job résumés, which we got to write. For this generation, much of what they say, do or write will be preserved online forever. Before employers even read their résumés, they’ll Google them.

Look: I am young people. I do Google folks. And you know what? There's not much there. Most people don't even come up. And certainly most screw-ups aren't in online existence. If you start a blog under your name, or populate your MySpace profile with keg stands, you'll be creating a record you may not be interested in. But the pictures of you as an acrobatic alcoholic can be taken down when you apply for jobs -- nothing permanent about that fingerprint -- and surprisingly few folks start blogs under their own name. The record just isn't that substantial. And it's certainly less substantial than it was a few generations ago, when you'd probably be applying for jobs in the city you grew up in, where there was a living, communal memory of the time you fell off the barn drunk. And naked. Now that you're applying three states away, nobody remembers that. Not even Google. Possibly not even you.

June 27, 2007 | Permalink


Friedman just doesn't seem to think things all the way through to their logical conclusions, just something like 15 minutes of considering his premise would have disabused him of the need to write this column. Alternately, his personal bubble is so thick that when he Googles his kids and their friends and doesn't find keg stands he assumes that's because they aren't doing keg stands, not because their smart enough to post the pictures under a pseudonym.

Posted by: justin | Jun 27, 2007 9:33:30 AM

Haven't read the book, so maybe it's covered, but these "online fingerprints" will work both ways, of course. Even those things that appear generally outlandish by today's standards may serve well to indicate qualities and skills that future colleagues and careers will value: adventurousness, creativity, initiative, design, composition, etc. Like everything, publishing ourselves will cut both ways.

Posted by: NealB | Jun 27, 2007 9:46:51 AM

I not even sure what I would have to do to make my name come up on google. There are two pro sports figures, a a popular musician, several of authors, and at least two people in my field of study that have my name.

Also it is really like Thomas Friedman to write something that is opposite of what people have been saying for a long time ( i.e. the modern world makes everyone more anonymous )and not acknowledge this. Didn't he read about how awful anonymous commenters are?

Posted by: boringname | Jun 27, 2007 9:48:36 AM

You missed the best part: Friedman cited the business value of apologizing for mistakes.

As I read the words, I said to myself, "Did he just write that?"

It's a cliche, but worth repeating in this context. The man used the most powerful space in punditland to cheerlead a war that has turned out disastrously. And he has never apologized for his role.


Posted by: Sean | Jun 27, 2007 9:57:51 AM

"For this generation, much of what they say, do or write will be preserved online forever."

Because, as everyone knows, websites last forever.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Jun 27, 2007 10:10:16 AM

the Mustache just gets unintentionally funnier every month. He still remembers some lady cutting in line at Logan, and now feels the weight of celebrity stooping his carriage, like Frodo wearing the One. The Eye of Mordor is everywhere, spreading its cameraphone minions throughout Middle Davos.

Funnier still is how he's just noticed this David Brin wrote a book called The Transparent Society published in 1998. While at the time there was a lot of talk about securing private data, Brin spends a lot of time writing about the coming ubiquity of cameras.

As always, the Mustache is late to the party, and then trivializes the discussion with how it's going to affect his cab driver interviews.

Posted by: JayAckroyd | Jun 27, 2007 10:17:21 AM

"A human airport nonfiction table"--very nice. David Brooks is also a leading candidate, as in, I'm going to divide a vast group of people into two simplistic categories, compare and contrast them, and then claim that existing new research supports all of my conclusions, even though I just made up this typology on a deadline.

Posted by: Philly | Jun 27, 2007 10:38:03 AM

A friend and I once uncovered a gay-dating site profile of my French teacher, as well as his personal blog. He didn't use his real name for either, but he used an email address which he had also used on some thread somewhere which he had signed with his last name. The name was unusual enough that a few hours of online snooping got us to both his blog and his profile.


You are a petro-dictator who should apologize to Tom Friedman for your misleading post sometime in the next six months.

Posted by: Sam L. | Jun 27, 2007 10:45:08 AM

"The record just isn't that substantial."

NOW, that's true. Thirty years from now? Privacy is dead.

Posted by: Korha | Jun 27, 2007 10:57:56 AM

I kind of welcome that record. If Myspace or Facebook had been around in 1976, we might have had enough embarassing video of a few stupid entitled fratboys to keep them out of government.

Posted by: yowsa | Jun 27, 2007 11:03:18 AM

Why Can't Little Tommy Reason: In my own way, I'll echo Sam L here -- Friedman is the perfect style of commentator for Mainstream-Mega-Media America, which treats its audience (that would be all of us) as if we were adolescents with hyper-cases of Attention Deficit Disorder... nothing lasts in the minds of consumers / voters longer than six months.

Tommy's perfect in that environment.

Posted by: Austin Cooper | Jun 27, 2007 11:09:31 AM

Shorter Seidman
"I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record"
Oh yeah well don't get so distressed
Did I happen to mention that I'm impressed?

Posted by: david | Jun 27, 2007 11:14:05 AM

It all depends. My name is unusual enough that if you Google it, you get 600+ hits and they're all me. E-mail I sent to mailing lists in 1996, my NT Times wedding announcement, my blog, articles I've written, articles I've been quoted in, and a lot more.

There's nothing there that's career killing, but it's something I have to be aware of as I use the Internet.

Posted by: fiat lux | Jun 27, 2007 11:15:44 AM

Columns - and books - like this expose the difference between those who think they understand "the digital age" and those who actually do.

A few stupid people getting caught up by their incredibly detailed Myspace pages does not equate everyone's complete history existing online. My surname is distinctive enough that Googling it - and excluding non-English websites - will bring up me and a couple of close relatives. And you will find out practically nothing about any of us.

Posted by: Stephen | Jun 27, 2007 11:17:41 AM

For everyone saying "you can take a site down", I guarantee you Google is archiving everything. Everything. I said some stupid crap under my own name in some usenet groups in 1995, before I really "got" the internet, and you can still find it online. I'm no Friedman fan, but this is a real issue.

Posted by: Neesh | Jun 27, 2007 11:31:51 AM

Tommy's subtext here is the relentless pursuit and critique of the pundit-class by the blogger-class, a sport enabled by the internet. It's getting to him.

Posted by: Johnson's Dog | Jun 27, 2007 11:35:57 AM

Friedman is a despicable human being wearing a caterpillar under his nose, but I actually agree with him here. We leave electronic trails behind us, and true anonymity is a myth. If someone wants to find our online history, and is willing to spend some time digging, it will be found.

Posted by: arbitropia | Jun 27, 2007 11:57:07 AM

As an experiment I just googled my name and got about one and a half million hits, very few of which are me. I googloed my name plus the town where I live and still got 123,000 hits, most of which, again, don't seem to be me.

I finally put my name in quotes to get an exact match and, coupled with my city, got 79 hits. Most of which are still not me. Interestingly, I did manage to find out my time for a marathon I ran eight years ago.

If you're looking for a particular person, it's still gonna take a lot of research. Especially if that person has a common name.

Posted by: Mike | Jun 27, 2007 12:03:58 PM

The other fallacy of Friedman is thinking that people like him will be doing the hiring of today's teens. Today's web-savvy generation are tomorrow's human resource officers. They'll think a myspace account is a feature, not a bug.

Posted by: Lisa in Bama | Jun 27, 2007 12:29:58 PM

"The man is a human airport nonfiction table"


Posted by: Chris | Jun 27, 2007 12:34:46 PM

I agree with Neesh on this point. Y'all are being a tad naive. Everything is being archived and it doesn't take too many data points to pin a person down. I have Googled job applicants with common names and have found tons of information about those people. It's not that hard to do if you know what you're doing and you have a resume of a person's work history and interests as a starting point.

AOL released anonymous search data from 650,000 of their users in 2006 for researchers to use (and site AOL in their research). Many people were identified from their search histories alone. Credit card data, SSN, etc. could be recovered. Ever search for your name? A friend's name? A lost love? Information about your job or interests? Ever search to see if your SSN was in the wild? Tons is known about you by Google (Yahoo, AOL, etc). It's just that you're not very interesting to Google so it doesn't matter very much right now. So of course Google is happy to decouple your name from your searches to "protect your privacy". It makes you feel good, and causes them no harm - they are marketing to your search history after all.

You can use a site like http://www.mymy.com/ which interfaces many search engines for you (defaults to Google), and then discards your search info, if you wish to be more cautious - you take a speed hit of course. If I were in the public eye, it's what I'd do every time.

Posted by: DanF | Jun 27, 2007 12:37:25 PM

I think we've seen from the AutoAdmit fiasco that it's not necessarily what you put on the internet that can bite you in the ass, but what others do.

Or just look at that high jumper out in California (whose name I won't type just because I don't want to increase her misery). She will forever be associated with the kind of slackjawed basement dwellers who took a mundane photo of her at a regular old track meet and turned it into highly talked-about stroke material.

I left my blog for a while because someone put two disparate pieces of information that I'd dropped at different points together and was obsessive enough to run searches based on those pieces of info and discover not only who I am, but where I worked. And then was creepy about it.

IOW, even innocuous information can come back and bite you if there's someone out there who is nuts enough to do you harm.

Posted by: zuzu | Jun 27, 2007 2:34:57 PM

"The man is a human airport nonfiction table"

Am I the only one who doesn't get this joke?

Posted by: CountAsterisk | Jun 27, 2007 3:00:39 PM

things like myspace and facebook aren't being used to keep frat boys out of jobs they're not qualified for, they are to provide excuses and cover for people trying to avoid hiring individuals with undesirable tendencies (ie. liberalism, homosexuality, etc). you look someone up, find out they're a liberal, and then you just don't call them in for an interview.

i think its a deplorable practice for employers to go snooping around people's personal information - even information they put up online themselves for social reasons - when they are not applying to socialize with these people, they are applying for a job. what a person says or does on myspace or what have you has nothing to do with their abilities as an employee. unless they have written deliberately false or misleading things about that company, for instance. can't think of a good way to stop them though, so...

Posted by: itsbenj | Jun 27, 2007 3:17:33 PM

Ezra: His thesis that "lots of information about you solidifies your reputation" is wrong in the first place.

In a world saturated with information about everyone's past misdeeds, is it not more likely that putting all this dirty laundry in the open will just make it all the more clear that the stupid things one did once upon a time are not necessarily the measure of who you are today?

Reputation becomes less meaningful when you realize how many people share similar reputations.

When EVERYONE has drunken college pictures of themselves easily googlable on the net, they sorta lose their shocking impact.

Posted by: Adam | Jun 27, 2007 4:16:57 PM

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