Home > privacy, social computing > Amy’s Prediction: In 20 Years No One Will Be Qualified to Be President

Amy’s Prediction: In 20 Years No One Will Be Qualified to Be President

Today’s teens are pouring their most personal thoughts onto the Internet. They flirt, they gossip, they angst, they brag about being naughty–just like we did when we were teens. Except the problem is, the Internet is a surprisingly persistent medium.

An old joke says that taking information off the Internet is like taking pee out of a pool. Sure you deleted it, but did the server keep a backup?  There’s likely a backup on Brewster Kahle’s Internet Archive, http://archive.org. Before you decided to delete it, did a friend save a copy? When you post information online, you lose control of it.

Teens say the most amazing things. My friends and I had a great deal of fun, and I’m relieved to say it’s all forgotten or at least not documented in my own words or photos. (If I appear doing anything unseemly  in Anne Mini‘s new novel, I can simply deny it!) If all of our coming-of age angst was saved for posterity, I’d be appalled.  I think most people look back on their teen and young adult years that way. At least I hope they do.

What happens when young adult antics are archived? The thought gives one pause. Will the bride data mine the groom before the wedding (or vice versa)? Will the colleague with an axe to grind dig up ancient history to use as a weapon? Are we entering a new age of harassment by ancient history, a golden age of blackmail?

I suspect that most teen and young adult antics will stay obscure, and if they’re uncovered folks will mostly just laugh and reminisce. But there’s one special category of people who may not get away so easy: public figures. Actors, musicians, and athletes can probably survive the scrutiny. But what about politicians? We still elected Bill Clinton, because he said he “didn’t inhale.” What happens when the future political candidate is inhaling on camera, memorialized for posterity?

I see a few possible outcomes. One is that teens over time will learn to be more careful with their personal information.This I think is inevitable. Which leads us to the prospect that we will have one lost generation of potential future politicians–the generation who didn’t yet know to be careful about their personal information online. Like the donut hole in medicare coverage, we’ll have a lost zone between those too old to have been online much and those young enough to know to be at least a bit careful.

Another  potential outcome is that we as a culture will learn to be more tolerant of what people do in their personal lives, especially as youth. Europeans tend to be somewhat more tolerant already–to draw a clearer line between personal and professional behavior. Americans are plagued by an endearing notion of “Character”–that what we do in our personal lives speaks to our fitness for professional tasks. When complete lives are increasingly archived, we may need to step back from that ideal and let our leaders be human.

Categories: privacy, social computing
  1. January 22, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    You won’t know until it’s out!

    Seriously, this is timely. Who would have guessed even five years ago that posing naked for Cosmopolitan wouldn’t have completely KILLED a potential political career? Now, it just seems to provide an excuse for showing a lot of skin on political shows.

    One wonders what the outcome would have been if the senator-elect hadn’t happened to look pretty good naked, however. Maybe we’ve merely become more tolerant of the pretty.

  1. February 22, 2010 at 2:38 am

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