Panopticon World

Thomas Friedman sees people who see people:

For young people, writes Seidman, this means understanding that your reputation in life is going to get set in stone so much earlier. More and more of what you say or do or write will end up as a digital fingerprint that never gets erased. Our generation got to screw up and none of those screw-ups appeared on our first job résumés, which we got to write. For this generation, much of what they say, do or write will be preserved online forever. Before employers even read their résumés, they’ll Google them.

Ezra gets appropriately deflationary about these claims, but I think there’s obviously something to what Friedman’s saying. One constant in human history is that norms about privacy are constantly switching as what the underlying technology and economy make possible shift as well. When people were too poor to afford multi-room houses, certain things were normal. Now that people are rich enough to afford all kinds of gadgets and Web 2.0 tools, other things are becoming normal.

But one fascinating element of this trend is how variable it all is. If you have a fairly rare name, it’s easy to scope out information about you through Google even if not much is there. If you’re Tom Lee or Susan Smith, however, (to name a couple of friends) then things get much less clear. And, of course, if there does happen to be another Matthew Yglesias out there somewhere, it’s really hard to find information on him.