Blog Pile

Fear of Googled Past

cc licensed flickr photo by Photography by Chris

Rob Wall’s excellent post on Unintended Consequences pinged me recently (Rob, you gotta stop selling yourself short on your writing, ok?). In reading it, however, a phrase I have read like a thousand times before, maybe even said myself, jumped out and get stuck in my fur:

The google-bot is such an unforgiving beast since it forces us to deal with words that might have been written long ago and in a much different frame of mind than one might have today.

Similar statements usually produce head nodding, saying we have to inform young people that their raucous drinking photos and myspace rants of their youthful antics may hurt them in the future when they look for a job.

But what does that really say about us?

It sounds like the under the bed monster fear of “looking bad” or “looking stupid” to others. Flip it around, and it says we should create online representations of ourselves that aim for some false perfection, a sheen of lack of flaws, like we all should have bodies of Hollywood waifs and minds of Harvard physics majors. We should delete something we wrote in a different time of life, or slop over it with electronic white out?

How real is that? It sounds like a desire for a Stepford world, a Pleasantville with no hopes of cracks.


The Fear of a Googled Past says that you may be measured as equally on what your current accomplishments are as that Spring Break trip 15 years ago to New Orleans where someone photographed you kissing a __________ on the ____________ wearing a _________ _____________. Frankly, if some company I am interviewing for wants to judge my merits and capability on what they can Google of a past party incident …. I really have no interest in working for them. Never forget, when you are interviewed, you are also interviewing a potential employer.

There’s more to it as the bloopers in recorded classroom lectures raise fear of professors being caught being… human. Oh no, we must erase evidence of imperfection. I like the way Stephen Downes aptly swats at the fear monster:

You read this sort of story a lot, the one where somebody does something online and lives to regret it. In this case, it’s a professor who utters something stupid, where formerly, “in the sanctity of the classroom, when you say something, it stays there,” but now, it’s online. I have two views. First, openness is good. If the behaviour was inappropriate when seen by everyone, it was inappropriate, period, and should not have been covered up by the so-called “sanctity of the classroom.” Second, as more and more practices become more open, the self-appointed guardians of morality in our society – you know who you are – are going have to lighten up and stop pretending people live lives of sanctity. Nobody does, and we should stop pretending.

(emphasis added)

It’s time to put the fear in a more appropriate scale. I don’t live a life of sanctity, nor do I even want to pretend I do

cc licensed flickr photo by foreversouls

What we need is more open-ness of our feared googled past; flood the tubes with it.

I suggest a campaign of self sharing our embarrassing past moments; if more do it, and laugh, they may be minimized in the fear department (at least that is my utopian theory). Here is my boastful sense of fashion at an early age:

I Was A Child Fashion Genius. Not.

Maybe child-hood silliness is not threat enough.

Do you want drunken stupidity stories? Maybe it’s time to reblog them. Cars wrapped around poles? Badly acted roles in terrible plays? Papers written the night before that are un-readable? Badly timed investments? I have more stupid s*** than I know what to do with it.

And I don’t give a cat’s ass if you google my past and find something laughable, because those bits are not the entirety of who I am. I will laugh first at them.

I stand in the face of my google-able past and laugh.


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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. Well said Alan. To err is human, to forgive divine. Isn’t that how it goes? I hope this will be the case for the students we teach today. By the way, can totally empathise with your 1970’s fashion sense. Have a few choice photos of my own in the albums somewhere, but I’m pretty sure Google hasn’t tracked them down!

    Jenny Luca’s latest blog post…Sleepout for Schools

  2. I note that this post has a greater density of dog-metaphors than your usual. One of the things that people like about dogs is how unembarrassed they are.

    Yes, please, give us your “drunken stupidity stories”, “Cars wrapped around poles”, “Badly acted roles in terrible plays”, “unreadable papers”, and “Badly timed investments”. Because I think you’ll find it difficult to avoid barking while telling such stories. Example.

    Pyesetz the Dog’s latest blog post…News of the week

  3. Alan,
    I agree with you in spirit, but the reality is that folks are putting their professional lives in jeopardy all the time by their thoughtless stupidity that they see necessary to share online. I agree that our distant past should remain just that… our past. However, there is no mistaking the reality that we all make judgements based on the information that we have… regardless of whether those judgements are sound/accurate or not.

    I would agree that one’s current actions that can be observed (on the job) are much more powerful in determining one’s merit and character than a laundry trail, but given the option to post digital dirt/nonsense or digital evidence of knowledge products/skills/abilities, I would strongly encourage students to shoot for the latter…. and to consider the implications of the former. Funky choice of clothing (love the pants, by the way… oh yeah, back then they were “slacks”) is quite tame compared to what naive folks (not just kids) are openly sharing on line. When we were younger, there was no option for sharing our stupidity for the world to see (thank goodness). It is one thing to, as Downes puts it, “pretending people live lives of sanctity. Nobody does, and we should stop pretending.” However, one also doesn’t have to make public every thoughtless or inappropriate comment, photo, video, thought,…. in the spirit of fun.

    There is still room for some digital restraint in this conversation.

    1. Thanks for your balanced comment Steve. I was being a tad facetious, and my post is meant more as an opening for this kind of discussion because I hear people more talking out of fear/restraint and I wanted to lob something in the opposite direction. I would agree that there is a lot of work to do to help people of all ages understand the ramifications of what they post online.

      At the same time, for potential employers to pursue every shred of personal detail they can find online, and pass judgment on it without giving individuals the opportunity to respon to allegations is, well chicken shit.

      It is certainly not a space of clear understanding or firm rules.

  4. Yes… rules are neither clear nor fixed. I think employers are finding it quite easy to dig up dirt that appears on the first page of a google search… they often don’t have to try all that hard. Hence, the many companies that have emerged under the umbrella of “digital reputation management”. I think the rule of thumb, “Just use your head!!” goes a long way here 😉

  5. Pingback: A blog is . . . |

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