The world is changing. More and more of us spend more and more time online. I have a decade of crap that I’ve written online, in one form or another. It’s weird to think that there was a time in my life when I hand-wrote things in books that nobody else ever saw.
There are kids growing up today whose whole lives will have been shared online. People who’ve been facebooking since they were pre-teens. Who’ve been tweeting since their childhood budgie died. You get the picture.
The more I watch it develop, the more I see the attitudes of my generation as being outdated, anachronistic. Despite our desire to see ourselves as tech-savvy, we still see the world through the prism of our upbringing. We still put a pressure on the online world, we cannot help but see it as something official, some form of publication, of formal statement. We tend to be paranoid about what we put out there. We spend a lot of time writing F.A.Q.s on how not to behave online, how not to fuck up, how not to put anyone offside, how to create a careful, inoffensive online presence. We tell one another “When it’s online, it’s there forever”, in hushed tones, wary of this eternal etching of our potential mistakes.
I don’t pretend to be able to see the future, but I think it will look like this; people of the future will look back in time and tell us to get over ourselves.
Future generations, who have grown up online, won’t have the same mistique about it being some kind of formal Statement of Persona, that we have to live by for all time. There was no internet when I was writing bad teenage poetry, so I can look back and say I judiciously elected not to upload it. I’ve been online for ten years, and so I can lie to myself that there is some consistent identity that I can reasonably present, stable and crafted.
People who grow up online will look back and see alll their teenage crap sprayed across the permanent record. They might cringe a little, but they won’t feel the same delusion that it is possible, or even desirable, to preserve a dignified public online face.
Because you are going to make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. And it is not mistakes that hold us back, it is not mistakes that stop us from growing. It is the fear of making mistakes that holds us back. It is the fear that keeps us stunted, undeveloped. Growth, success, learning, come from throwing it out there, from making a leap, taking a chance on a branch that is untried, not knowing if it will hold your weight.
If there is an online record of your past stupidity, I say don’t be ashamed. Be proud. If there is no public documentation of your flippant, ill-thought-out remarks, your clumsy mis-steps of logic, of your deluded arrogant beliefs of youth, then what have you been doing? If you can’t look back and know there are remarks preserved in stone that you would publicly disown, then you haven’t grown. If you look back at your comments of ten years ago and think “I was right about it all” then damn, what have you been doing for a decade? What have you learned?
Future generations will understand this, of course, because they will have lived with it all their lives. They won’t speak lies in awed whispers, about being careful not to make mistakes. They won’t say, as though imparting some parental warning, “Once you put it on the net it’s there for good”, as a patronising warning to their associates, as though one ever recognises one’s foolishness in its present moment.
Future generations will laugh at our pretentious idiocy, in thinking we own our public image, in thinking that looking as though we were always right is more important than admitting that we all make mistakes, learning and changing and growing and seeing the world in its moving, changing, tumultuous truth. Future employers won’t read and judge their employees’ Facebook history, because they’ll have left plenty of messes behind of their own. Future readers won’t judge their authors for public idiocies, because they will have made hundreds of their own.
Future generations will cast one glance at our preciousness, our self-importance, our hubris, and ask each other who did they think they were fooling?
Perhaps, if nothing else, we will all learn a little humility.