You Are What Your Profile Is

If she were still alive, this would be Mansfield's profile pic.

J. P. Morgan famously lashed out at them. J. D. Salinger was all the more famous for his aversion to them. The last moments of Bismarck and Diana were marred by them. Only last week I wrote about Jackie O.’s lifelong spat with them. Photographers, photography and privacy. They had a tormented struggle together, and there were a lot of iconic photos that came out of this.

Evidences and indiscretions were exposed. Some careers and lives were tragically destroyed. All of this happened before the arrival of the internet, but the latter greatly facilitated it. When Jayne Mansfield flashed at photographers, it was sensational, but when we see 20,345th photo of Britney Spears or Amy Winehouse doing something stupid, it is time to stop and ask ourselves, “Do we really want to see [insert a third-rate celebrity name]’s bedroom antics?”

This incoherent mess of a blog post is inspired by reading three stories in past 24-hours This weekend, New York Times Magazine published an article called The Web Means the End of Forgetting. It is extremely insightful, and forced me to reconsider what content I am putting online. The second article was on Gawker — not the apex of reporting — and describes the arrest of yet another(!) Russian spy in America, coupled with screenshots from her facebook, and notes those pictures suggest “she likes slutty Halloween costumes and pointing at the camera when she’s drunk.” Sounds typical 20-something to me, but this is apparently news. Lastly, the Independent reports that the Russian media chanced upon a photograph of the Georgian Minister Vera Kobalia in a nightclub and accused Georgia of appointing “strippers” to the cabinet. How did they chance upon this photo (which was made 10 years ago)? Of course, it was on Ms. Kobalia’s facebook. And this is just a week’s worth of ‘iconic’ happenstances on facebook. Such incidents and indiscretions galore… and there are even websites dedicated to this sort of sell-out-thy-friend cyberbullying.

Privacy remains a thorny issue; and social networking adds more complexity to it but what really was not helping here is Facebook’s privacy settings. You want to share the photos from a fun night, but can you trust all of your 2161 friends? Newsmen once used to bribe servants of celebrities to stalk them or go through their trash. Now, they just need to call someone who is friends with them on facebook. Or better yet, add him/her as a friend.

I don’t know about the age composition of this blog, but if I have to guess, I will say most readers are older than me. I don’t know whether the older generations react with amusement, consternation, or aplomb to all this. Personally, I don’t know how to react either. You can’t live without facebook, and even if you don’t post photos of yourself, you can’t prevent others from posting. No matter whether you detag or ask your friend to take them down, the photos will always be online thanks to facebook’s labyrinthine rules.

I very seriously doubt I would have gotten my current job if I apply for it today. Three-quarters of companies now do facebook checks on applicants. Once, life was not solely about accomplishments but also about potentials. Today, it is about indiscretions and what you do outside of 9-to-5. In a world where globalization has opened up new markets, careers and opportunities, we have ironically become a society that never let our pasts go.

Sorry if this post comes off as a rant, but I worry that, if this virtual scarlet letter trend continues, the next generation’s leaders will be today’s blandest, most boring people.

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