Since George Orwell's novel 1984, we've been concerned about government playing the role of "Big Brother." In the novel, an entire society is under total surveillance by the authorities. The citizens are regularly reminded with the phrase, "Big Brother is watching you." And today, from traffic cameras, to cell phone tracking, to credit card purchase records and more, it seems that every day we're seeing prophetic signs that Orwell's warning is coming true.
But the bigger reality is, Big Brother is indeed here, and we've discovered that it's us.
While the Anthony Weiner case may be getting all the press, it's only the tip of the iceberg of people using technology to shoot themselves in the foot. I've personally spoken to many college graduates who were surprised at the difficulty of getting a job after putting sexy, risque, and outright gross pictures of their lives on social media sites. After all, you may think those photos of drinking during spring break are hilarious, but chances are, a future employer won't agree.
Recently at a university outside Los Angeles, it's been reported that a handful of faculty members met to discuss accreditation. Wanting to keep accurate notes of the meeting, one person pulled out his mobile device and started recording. Fine. But when the meeting was finished and the friends retired to a private home to watch a Laker game, the recorder was left running.
When the file was turned in to have a transcript made, the typist included the unexpected private home conversation during the basketball game. Apparently, the conversation featured unflattering comments about co-workers and leadership, were laced with profanity, and more. Probably stuff that most people would never think so unusual in a private conversation. But once it was read publicly, the embarrassed professors turned in their resignations.
Whether these and other incidents are legal or illegal doesn't really matter when it comes to the personal damage it causes. Reputations and integrity have been destroyed, and perceptions are hard to change.
Every day we have the temptation to send emails, photos, texts, and more that out of context, would be humiliating. Maybe it's time to start thinking about our participation in the online world as reputation management.
Because sadly, we're shooting ourselves in the foot, and our weapon of choice appears to be our mobile devices.