Everything is Forever on the Internet

When I embarked on my writing journey, I chose to adopt a pseudonym for mostly practical reasons. For one, my real name is notoriously difficult to pronounce correctly, let alone type into Google with any hope of finding me. Additionally, I am an engineer and scientist by day, and I was worried about confusion if someone was looking for my fiction credits and found instead my scientific citations. Or vice versa. Though it seemed simple convenience at the time, I’ve come to appreciate the insulation my Nathan Barra identity provides to my friends and family.

Social media has exponentially increased our ability to stay in touch with the intimate details of each other’s lives. While this is a positive from the perspective of maintaining relationships with distant friends and family, it also represents the biggest potential breach of personal privacy in our lifetimes. After all, phrases like “Facebook stalking” have entered the general lexicon for good reason. And what’s worse is that we largely do it to ourselves.

Authors have always enjoyed a certain amount of famous anonymity. With few exceptions, most writers aren’t harassed as they shop for groceries or go to restaurants. Paparazzi don’t care to follow us around. This distance from celebrity means nothing, however, if we choose to let others into our digital living room. Writers are inherently meticulous chroniclers of the human experience, a tendency which leads us to over share.

Though I am early in my creative career and haven’t had to worry about malicious attention as of yet, I’ve seen plenty of fights over social media and the blogosphere turn nasty and personal. Some people don’t draw lines when they attack and bully others, seemingly forgetting in the midst of their casual cruelty that there is another person on the other side of the screen. I’ve watched careers ruined by content posted in a moment of frustration, inebriation, or thoughtlessness. Defending yourself in the court of public opinion is hard enough when you haven’t tied your own noose years before.

User generated content isn’t going away. In fact, all indications show that we are accelerating our efforts to become more connected and integrated than ever before. George Orwell and others predicted that every minutiae of our lives would eventually be monitored and recorded, but I don’t think anyone guessed to what extent we would violate our own privacy. My friends can see how many steps I take each day, what I think of movies and books, what beers I drink, and where I choose to visit. All of which is permanently part of the public record. Data doesn’t disappear, it just gets buried. As semi-public figures, we authors must be diligent in guarding our privacy and public image. Think carefully when you choose to post or share. You never can know what will be uncovered years down the road, taken out of context, and used against you.


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