On Monday, former President Obama was speaking in Chicago, making his first public speech since he left the White House. During that speech he joked that “If you had pictures of everything I had done in high school, I wouldn’t have been President of the United States”. It goes without saying that the creation of the Internet has changed the world for the better, making communication easier, connecting the world, and spreading ideas. But it also comes with some consequences. I’d like to take some time to acknowledge one of those.
I am part of the first generation that grew up with the Internet being widely accessible, and grew up as the age of social media was dawning. I got a Facebook when I was 13, and I can tell you first hand that not everything I posted when I was in middle school I agree with or even like now. Back then I referred to just about anything as “epic”, and things like “le funny internet memes XD” were described with such poetic words such as “awesomesauce”. Yes, I formed my early political opinions from poorly made image macros making fun of Mitt Romney. Are there pictures of me “planking” on my Facebook somewhere? Yep. Did I come up with “TheFlyingAlmond” when I was 15? You betcha. (I’ll explain the origin of the name at some future time). Looking back over my past posts and tweets, I can acknowledge that I posted some pretty dumb stuff. And that’s alright, I was a kid.
I wasn’t the only one to have access to the wide world of the internet at a young age, many of my friends had social networks way before me, and many other people had been using early social networks like MySpace for years. We were the first generation to have the ability to transmit the thoughts our undeveloped brains made into a place where nothing is ever deleted. Our childhood experiences, the awkwardness of the preteen years, the edginess of our teenage years, and everything in between, are floating somewhere out there, waiting for someone dedicated enough to dig far enough to find them. We were told to be careful about what we post on the Internet, but that didn’t stop us. Everyone has some post or picture floating somewhere on the internet that they deeply regret sending out there. And that is starting a new phenomena: Public figures having to confront things they put online years before that they never intended to go public.
Soon we shall see politicians and celebrities having to answer for things they put online when they were kids. As my generation grows into adulthood and enters the public eye, many of us have left behind a digital paper trail of every thought we conjured up that we thought was edgy enough to put online. It already affects people today, many employers look through the social networks of possible employees, a few pictures of night out with the lads could cost someone their job. Remember Ken Bone, the sweater-donning audience member from the 2016 debates? Shortly following him becoming an internet hero, his Reddit post history was dug into and some rather unfortunate things were unearthed. Nothing damning, but enough to make you feel kind of bad for him, because we know we could be next. It is going to be painfully cringe-inducing to see a presidential candidate one day be asked about a picture of them going through their teenage goth phase.
It’s true, if we had pictures of everything Obama did as a teenager, it is likely he wouldn’t have been President. The same can be said about everyone. Teenagers do stupid stuff. The difference now is that we can directly broadcast those stupid things to the world.
The advice I can give to people my age is to do what I did while writing this: Hold your nose, dive into your post history, and torch everything you can. It might just pay off in the future.
Enjoy a short gallery of bad photos of me and some cringe-worthy Facebook posts.