When was the first time that you tried “Googling” yourself? We’ve all done it.
For me, it was right after my guidance counselor told our graduating class that post-secondary institutions would be looking at our Facebook and Myspace pages in addition to our applications and resumes when deciding who would “make the cut.” I didn’t use either of those social media sites at the time, but a couple of things did come up: an article about an award that I had received through the school division and a local news article about our basketball team (I was noted for getting fouled out). All of the other results were related to my cousin’s hockey career (we shared the same last name) and my great-uncle’s memoirs from our town’s centennial celebrations (we also shared the same last name). My digital identity was pretty lame. It didn’t reflect my true identity.
After reading the articles for this week’s class, I found myself curious about what I would find this time in a Google search of myself. The results were very different. This time results from my gravatar, Facebook, my school’s website, Twitter, my blog, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, FlipQuiz and the Saskatchewan Cheerleading Association 2014 AGM came up. (Not all of the results were for my accounts, but other Sarah Wandys in the world.)
My digital identity has evolved, and I’m proud of how it represents me professionally as an educator and volunteer, and also personally. But after reading Bonnie Stewart’s blog post “What your New Year’s Facebook Posts Really Mean,” I wondered how much these social media sites reflect who I am/was independently of them, and how much they have actually shaped who I have become. Stewart says, “Social media is where we are deciding who we are, not just as individual digital identities but AS A PEOPLE, A SOCIETY.” If this is true, then it is a relationship between what I have engaged with on social media and how I have responded to it that has created my digital identity, keeping in mind that I assume a global audience so I sensor everything I share.
I’m not the only young person who is taking care to manage their digital footprint. A study by Madden and Smith, “Reputation Management and Social Media” suggests that “Young adults are the most active online reputation managers in several dimensions. When compared with older users, they more often customize what they share and whom they share it with.” They are becoming more digitally literate and better digital citizens. This is important because customers, employers, neighbors and dates are more likely than ever before to search you up on the internet.
Because people seeking employment know that employers will search them on the internet, some have proactively begun to create online profiles or portfolios to make a good impression and provide links to examples of their skills and abilities rather than simply listing them on a resume. One man, Alec Brownstein, even used Google AdWords to connect with desirable employers. When the creative directors he wanted to work for Googled themselves, they would get an advertisement at the top of the search results introducing them to Brownstein. He ended up receiving two job offers. What we share has immediate and long-term affects, both positive and negative.
I tried searching my maiden name again, just to see what the results would be. Sure enough, the same articles about my award and basketball game appeared, although several pages into the search. Still, I was able to find them.
Every tweet, every blog comment, every Facebook post, every Instagram picture, every AGM report, and every Pin is a snapshot of your identity, and more importantly an opportunity to consider who you want to become.