Thursday, August 31, 2006
What's On Your Permanent Record?
At Franklin Middle School, my seventh grade teacher of family and consumer science (that’s home-ec to geezers over twenty) possessed one weapon in her disciplinary arsenal: the Red F. Every day, she threatened to emblazon Red F’s on our PERMANENT RECORD if we didn’t behave.
I can’t remember her name, but I remember how she looked during Red F tirades. By the end of the period, her head and neck looked like a tree that was attached to gigantic roots (neck tendons) bulging through topsoil. [Mrs. Home-Ec, I’m sorry if you have truckloads of chiropractic bills from all that neck tension, but at least now you know the genesis of your affliction. You’re welcome.]
When I was older and wiser, I realized that unless I had some fancy felonies up my sleeve, I didn’t need to worry about my permanent record. In fact, I stopped believing in it.
Now, however, I’m back to believing in a new kind of permanent record, one that holds both public and private information and is available to anyone at the click of a mouse.
To borrow a popular slogan, “What happens on the Internet stays on the Internet.”
For example, I once published an article on an online magazine. On a whim, I recently searched and re-read it for the first time in years—discovering appalling, obnoxious writing. I was embarrassed that those words were floating around out there with my name attached to them. I wanted to scream, “That’s not how I write! I don’t normally talk like King James! I want a do-over!” I re-wrote the article for my blog, but the original mortifying writing is on my PERMANENT RECORD, out of my control--forever. Obviously, when I published the piece, I was confident it was good enough for public consumption. Now I’m a victim of the old joke, “It seemed like a good idea at the time . . . .”
Aside from Internet predators and identity thieves, you can be your own worst online enemy.
For instance, suppose you’re someone who doesn’t exactly live on the edge, and you decide to jolt your friends by staging some risqué photos of yourself engaging in illegal behavior or other dubious conduct, just for laughs. Even though it’s just a private joke, the joke could be on you when your future employer searches your name and sees your prank. She may not be impressed that at 17, you were able to hang upside down from a tree limb drinking a Corona in your underwear.
Does that sound far-fetched? In the June 6, 2006, issue of New Scientist, Jon Callas, Chief Security Officer of PGP Corporation (a software encryption company) warned, “You should always assume anything you write online is stapled to your resume. People don’t realise you get Googled just to get a job interview these days.” So whatever you blog about yourself could provide interesting tidbits of personal info to a prospective employer, but you’ll be left out of the loop.
You may think that built-in security options protect you, but compromising info has a way of slipping through the system. Students have actually been expelled or implicated in crimes because of friends’ indiscretions. One simple “forward” could set you back in reaching your goals.
An article entitled Facebook connecting more than students from PhysOrg.com relates this example of students implicating themselves online:
At Fisher College, a small liberal-arts school in Boston, controversy arose after two students were expelled for conduct on their Facebook accounts. Kurt Vachon and Cameron Walker, a sophomore and the Student Government Association president, were both members of a group expressing anger at a specific university police officer. A confidential investigation began when a fellow student came to university officials with concern over the group. According to John McLaughlin, Fisher College chief of police and spokesman, members of the group were going so far as to plan a scheme to get the officer in trouble in a sexual-assault setup. "Essentially they were students conspiring to set up a police officer on campus," he said.
However, the students involved contend their group was simply an online joke. Walker told the Brown University Daily Herald newspaper in November, "I had bad judgment, but I did not deserve to be expelled. I clarified that the Facebook group was a joke ... but (Fisher administrators) chose to take it seriously anyway. They chose to make it an issue when it didn't really have to be."
What messes we get ourselves into.
On another level, there’s a spiritual record of our messes, as well. I used to think God monitored me so that he could instantly engrave Red F’s on my permanent record. Whenever I asked for forgiveness, I felt somewhat better, but the specter of the Red F haunted me.
One day, I read John 3:17: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them!” (CEV) I began to understand that God’s favorite pastime is not keeping a grade book on his creation, that he was quite eager to forgive and forget when asked. The forgiving part was familiar; the forgetting part, the expunging, was too good to believe, and yet there it was in black and white throughout the Bible: “He doesn't punish us as our sins deserve. How great is God's love for all who worship him? Greater than the distance between heaven and earth! How far has the LORD taken our sins from us? Farther than the distance from east to west!” (Psalm 103:1-12 CEV)
One of my favorite songs is “Ocean Floor” by Audio Adrenalin because the chorus encourages you to see and accept that you can be completely pardoned:
Your sins are behind you
They'll never find you
They're out on the ocean floor
Your sins are erased
And they are no more
They're out on the ocean floor
At the end of the song, eerie sonar beeps remind you how deep and dark and cold the ocean floor is--unfathomable. It’s comforting to know that when we own up to our sins and ask for forgiveness, God takes great pleasure in plunging the Red F’s of our permanent record to the ocean floor, where they dissipate into nothingness forever.