THE BLOG
02/03/2015 03:15 pm ET Updated Apr 05, 2015

I Am Grateful Social Media Wasn't Around When I Was a Kid

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There is not a day that goes by where I forget to thank my lucky stars for being born in 1980.

I mean it. I am grateful for this fact every. Single. Day. Of. My. Life.

Why? Because in 1992 I was an extremely goofy 12-year-old, and there is very little photographic evidence of this fact.

Why else? Because in 1996, when I was a 16-year-old making stupid decisions with other 16-year-olds, the vast majority of those stupid decisions went undocumented.

More reasons? Because from 1998-2002, when I was a college student making even more stupid decisions, there was not a single Facebook post or Tweet in existence to be held against me when I least expected it.

A childhood and early-adulthood without social media means that I got to make the mistakes that children and young adults are now being punished for.

We old people committed the same acts of idiocy that young(er) people are committing today. I dare say it's a rite of passage. I will always believe that the single, solitary difference between the generations boils down to the the lack of platform available to broadcast those mistakes. (Ok, fine, another difference is the existence of the Jersey Shore which I'm pretty sure played a role in devastating humanity for eons to come. And melting my brain.)

And yet, despite what we know about making our various social media accounts private, scrubbing the less socially desirable status updates, etc., etc., mistakes are still being made. Every so often, we read/watch/hear about another person's life (young and old alike) upended due to what they are sharing on -- or doing with -- social media.

When such stories emerge, I think what young people are hearing is one of two things: 1. Scrub your social media accounts of every single aspect of your personality, and/or 2. Do not engage social media for the sake of what others might think of you if (when?) they find something unbecoming.

These messages remind me of what happens when parents express distaste for their kid's boyfriend/girlfriend -- the parental complaints only drive the two closer together.

When I was in my early twenties, I learned an important lesson: "Gauge your unintended audiences."

Wait, huh? What does that even mean?

It means that the people you are not speaking to might hear what you say -- regardless of your intentions.

This applies to pictures. This applies to videos. This applies to texts. This applies to Tweets. This applies to having conversations with a friend in the bathroom about an archenemy without realizing that said enemy's best friend is in the bathroom stall four feet away (this does not only happen in the movies. Trust me. I know). The list goes on.

You can completely Fort Knox your Facebook page, and yet you may find that someone, somewhere, should not have been trusted into the fort- alas, that "questionable" status update/picture/opinion/whatever has been used against you. Perhaps the worst part about it is, you thought you scrubbed your list closely enough to not have to worry about your life being destroyed by someone who made it their business to destroy it.

This is only a part of why you have to learn to Gauge Your Unintended Audiences. I am still learning this lesson -thankfully, the lessons get easier and easier over time.

I think we old people (professors and employers) are sending an incomplete message - this is not just about "Don't have a social media account"; it's not just about "Maintain a squeaky-clean image, so that when future employers Google your name they won't find anything questionable." Keep in mind, also, that "questionable" is always and forever narrowly defined by the person snooping. Which means, no matter what we do, we are never ultimately safe from another person's interpretation, however uninformed. (Sounds fun, right?)

Well, actually, it really is about all of those things, but I think a more complete message might be:

Gauge your unintended audiences. This is not just about using social media intelligently - it is about developing a very specific skill that is going to benefit you during your lifetime. The thing is, you have to develop this skill in the presence of omnipotent social media platforms. This fact alone makes learning how to gauge your unintended audiences infinitely harder than how we old people had it. And that's the truth.

It's time old people stopped holding young people responsible for not developing the wisdom and experience that take a life time to develop. The decisions I make at 34 look very different from the decisions I made at 20. And the same goes (or will go) for every person reading this post.

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