Here today, here tomorrow

Continuing on the theme of online presence. I’ve been sharing my photos with the world for many years now, stretching right back to the second half of the 1990s. Back then, saying that you had your own website was a bit like telling people that you liked to dress up as a Klingon and spend your evenings communing with other, like-minded beings. (Not that this was the fault of the uninitiated: this is a perfectly normal pursuit for many Internet users, then and now.) Over the intervening years, I’ve developed how I use the Internet and an online presence, from discussing lyrics and music with fellow R.E.M. afficionados in chat rooms, through personal diaries, membership of photographic communities and onward, being joined by so many of you along the way through the much-trodden route of what the media call “social networks“. 

Back in the 1990s, the common-or-garden Internet geek could barely conceive that the Internet would explode in the way that it has, to the extent that my parents and parents-in-law can now keep a constant eye on me, day or night, as they choose. “Ah!”, I hear you say, “but they can only see what you choose to put online for them to see!” Indeed: which brings me to my point.

These days, so many people are “online” that the size of online communities outweighs that of many countries: I think I remember reading that Facebook, the megalith of our times, would take eighth position in the list of nations, were Mark Zuckerberg to declare it an independent state. Millions of the community users – residents, if you will – are comparatively new to the world of online expression and many fall foul of the unfamiliar world of security precaution, public domain and so on. Stories have appeared with monotonous regularity over the past couple of years: of teenage birthday parties spiralling out of control, of hapless couples being torn apart by virtual infidelities and, in one tragic case which made international headlines, of a murder and suicide being provoked by a woman’s anouncement on the aforementioned megalith that she was leaving her husband. 

The fact stands that the Internet isn’t like a home computer, where unwanted or irrelevant messages can be deleted at will, gone forever and quickly forgotten. Messages sent in haste are quickly dispersed and copied by a hundred, a thousand, a million databases. They’re automatically emailed on to friends and strangers; a momentary lapse in concentration can send a private message into the waiting inboxes of a thousand recipients.  Photos of drunken antics and humorous sallies posted online can reach the eyes of an unforgiving boss, a potential employer or a betrayed lover in a heartbeat. By the time the error has been spotted, it’s often too late to do anything about it: a top-secret password is breached, a compromising photo is published, a job application passed over or a bank account emptied.

My point, which has been steadily crawling toward you through all this babble, is that you should take care to consider what ramifications your action will have. The ease with which one can share information these days isn’t just a bonus of high-speed connections and instant visibility: it can be a danger too. With an audience comes responsibility. Use it wisely and carefully.