Digital Footprints: Dance Like Nobody Is Watching

Setting / Near Future

Getting ready for your big job interview, you pick out your nicest professional clothes. You spend extra time making sure not a single hair is out of place. Your shoes are shined. You even remind yourself to sit up straight. “Posture is confidence,” you whisper to yourself. Now, you open the door to your interview.

You fail.

Despite your best laid plans and well-groomed presentation, here’s what the person across from you sees:

*You have a lot more clothes on today than featured on your Instagram account.
*Your online rants make you sound crazy. And not crazy in a funky good way. Crazy in a straight-jacket way.
*Although you listed your major as Accounting, it seems to have been Beer Pong. On a positive note, you seem to have received a lucrative sponsorship from red Solo cups.

Welcome to your digital footprint.

The takeaway: You gotta dance like nobody’s watching, but post like somebody is.

Because somebody is. And while people have a tendency to forget your past, Google doesn’t. Google is blessed with an elephant’s memory.

Your digital footprint is the collection of pictures, status updates, tweets, and blog posts that create a major impression. It’s your online reputation, which, in a world where online and offline are increasingly becoming merged, is the same as your overall reputation.

Your digital footprint is akin to you credit score: your past actions have a dramatic influence on your present and future. The question is no longer “Is someone going to Google me?,” but instead, “What will someone find when they Google me?”

Teenagers in particular struggle with the concept of a digital footprint because they may be less apt of foreseeing the negative consequences of an inappropriate post or picture. While adults may understand that an online post is public and searchable, the fact that one can target a semi-private audience may give a person a false sense of privacy.

Despite warnings to the contrary, privacy is not dead. It is just taking a completely new form and meaning in our hyper-connected digital world.

In a positive trend, the increase in educators and parents instilling digital citizenship lessons with their children has led to a growing awareness about digital footprints. Teenagers are becoming more cognizant in how their posts are viewed and used. Services like Snapchat, which promise a sense of impermanence, have seen massive growth.

The message is being heard. Every action leads to a reaction, and teenagers have been reacting to the increase in awareness. A key part to remember, however, is that it is better to have a positive digital footprint than no digital footprint. The latter would raise a red-flag as a PR scrubbing.

As a simple way to continue crafting a positive digital footprint, you can remember ADR:

1. Assess (Google yourself. How is your online reputation?)

2. Define (What impression do you want to give off?)

3. Refine (Implement your defined reputation by posting appropriately, delete unwanted content, and push wanted content higher in a Google search.)

Now that you have a few tips, let’s get into the emotional aspects of digital footprints. Why do we care so much about about this issue? Why does it bother us so much that risque pictures and posts can follow us around?

Because having the ability to reinvent oneself is central to being American. It is interwoven in our fabric, and a constant theme of bestselling novels and Hollywood movies. People change over time, and allow someone the freedom to escape the mistakes of their capricious youth. We love the idea of self-betterment, and a negative digital footprint is a hurdle that strikes us as unfair.

Americans don’t seem in a rush to be adopting the European model (“the right to be forgotten”), but at the same time we do want to make sure that one’s mistakes in the past don’t become some type of digital handcuffs on their future. People should be able to dance like nobody’s watching and love like they've never been hurt.

We can get there by understanding the complex nature of our digital footprint.

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