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Saturday, 6 November 2010

Facebook and your Future Selves

This was originally published in the paper edition of Varsity on the Friday 5th November 2010, issue 728. It can also be found here, on the Varsity website.

I was one of those textbook, weedy, milksop boys whose misspent childhood was spent in the glare of television screens. Borne mostly out of overexposure to WWF wrestling (before the panda-huggers re-appropriated their acronym), as a nine year old I started to fetishize tattoos as symbolising a forceful masculine identity.

But when I got to the age at which I could legally get one, I found myself unable to; it wasn’t that there weren’t any designs that I liked, the problem was that unshakeable obstacle of foresight: would I really want that tattoo as a young man or as a grey scale pensioner? A similar thought process ought to be on our minds as we negotiate our precarious existence in Cambridge. We must ask ourselves the question: how accountable are we being to our future selves?

When Nick Clegg was an undergraduate at Robinson, he had some dalliance with Cambridge University Conservative Association. Whilst this isn’t altogether surprising given his puppetee/puppeteer relationship with the Prime Minister, it must have proved quite embarrassing for him as he climbed the ranks of the Liberal Democrat party machine. But of course, he wouldn’t have known then what he would become in later life; and nor do we.

In the Facebook generation, we are all the more constrained by our present when thinking about our futures. So as you stagger your way to Gardies dressed in full black tie, and you gurn in joyful vinolency into your friend’s SLR, remember quite how permanent that image is going to be. You might lose contact with that friend; just next week he could sleep with your girlfriend and you could become determined enemies. Cambridge is famed for its elitist grasp on the professions and the higher you climb, the greater the fall. What if you become one of those dowdy, pontificating Conservative MPs, arguing about the problem of binge-drinking youths in 30 years time? What if your snap-happy friend becomes a journalist?

With Facebook, we actively diarise our every whim, every thought and every activity, and these facts, which we disclose freely ourselves, are out of our control as soon as we press ‘send’.

How lucrative a trade would some conniving young Cantabrigian forge if he befriended us all and saved copies of those compromising pictures, made copies of all those political and religious slurs you have aired all over your status and noted which events you have attended!

All he would have to do is wait for you to enter the professional world and the power he wields could be immense – a future prime minister could be jelly-wrestling this May Week, an aspiring head teacher could be brought down in later life by the pictures of him dressed as a Nazi guard in a bad taste bop when he was just a starry-eyed Fresher.

Our generation is more accountable for its actions than any previously. Whereas public figures today can explain away the deviant foibles of their youth by talking euphemistically about having a ‘full university experience’, we shall not be spared such liberties. It is all documented. Every uploaded photograph, every blogpost, each tiny tweet has the potential to rain down a torrent of shit on you in your professional life depending on which path you take.

Be you Tab Totty, be you parading in Champagne decadence or be you shagging your way across the sticky dancefloor of Cindies, keep in mind that you don’t know who you and those around you will become.

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