Watch out! The intimate details of your life will be visible forever more…

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I usually am interviewed by the business press, but unusually I have appeared in the pages of the November issue of woman’s magazine Madison, in an article luridly titled: “This woman was sacked for having sex – Is your boss watching you right now?”

They quote me as follows:

Futurist and technology expert Ross Dawson says businesses banning social networking sites are not only stifling goodwill, they’re missing out on potential benefits. “When you are hired, your contacts are a drawcard. Many of our friends are people we meet through work. Some companies, like IBM, are even encouraging staff to get on Facebook to foster those networks.”

However Dawson warns we should be very cautious about what we post. “During the hiring process employers are routinely searching the net for anything you’ve done,” he says. “Personal blogs, what you got up to last night – all this is visible. And that’s where this grey area between personal and professional comes into play again. I don’t think a lot of young people, particulary teenagers who are naturally putting their lives online, would be presenting the best image for, say, an investment bank that wants to hire them in the future.” Many people are also unaware that a quick Google search may turn up something that they posted years before – their attitudes and lifestyle may have changed radically, yet they’ve left behind a permanent and highly accessible record for anyone who cares to see.

One of the most socially transformative aspects of the web is that it not only lays everything bare, but it also has a permanent memory. It a fundamentally different world when anyone can in a moment uncover anything that’s ever become public about you. What becomes public includes not only what you choose to put on your blog, photo and video sharing sites, or other websites. It also includes comments, snapshots, rumors, and more posted without thought by those you have come across. It’s difficult to go to a young happening party and not end up on the web in some form.

Many employers see this is a massive boon, and eagerly scour the web for anything negative about their candidates, presuming that they’ve already been provided with all the positive stories. In some cases these searches will uncover relevant information. Many other times, they will find youthful indiscretions that are part of most people’s lives. However these are visible forever more by whoever cares to look.

It is inevitable that organizations will become more forgiving about what they discover their candidates and employees getting up to. They never knew in the past, so finding out what goes on outside of business shouldn’t change things. Otherwise the employee pool diminishes too much. Similarly, I always thought that the rise of drug-testing employees simply gave an advantage to companies that didn’t drug test. The less convential, often more creative types went exclusively to less uptight organizations. Performance is another issue, and if lifestyle impacts how people do their job, that needs to be addressed. So today, as we become highly visible in a range of different situations, including in the wilder situations we end up in, as well as of course expressing our opinions, open-mindedness becomes more relevant, and people can be seen more as they are rather than as the corporate persona they often assume.

In any case people are now learning pretty rapidly that what goes online lasts forever. It’s not new any more, it’s just a fundamental aspect of the world we live in. It will be interesting to see if the next generation of youths post all their lives online, understanding that it’s there to be seen by all forever more. I think they will.