I think mankind’s image can be summed up by the Internet: present, past, and future. Like a gallery exhibit in Chelsea, everything on the Internet is carefully curated. Facebook and Twitter are, at their roots, curations of our present selves. On them we post widgets of information that describe what we’re doing, who we’re with, what we’re thinking, how we’re feeling, and any other in-the-moment updates. In contrast, Pinterest, today’s fastest growing website, is a curation of our future. Your Pinterest is supposed to hold expensive things you would like to have, scenes you would like to recreate, people you would like to meet—it is your ideal future.
So what is a curation of our past? Technically it’s everything that we do online, but that can be summed up by one thing: our Google history. No, not the searches you performed last weekend on the Bacchanal lineup and Michael Kors’ belly button. I’m talking about the results that come up when you search your name online.
It feels appropriately narcissistic to Google your own name, especially for the average Columbia student. By nature of being academically and extracurricularly involved, your name is certainly floating around somewhere on the Internet. Chances are you’ll stumble upon old high school accomplishments, club bios, and a sketchy MyLife profile that you never made (I didn’t realize anyone could “try the people finder at MyLife™ to find Arvin Ahmadi and other old friends from Centreville”). But you may also find some edgier tidbits of online content: that Bwog comment you were brave enough to attach your name to, the controversial letter to the editor you wrote in high school, or a drunk Tweet from last weekend.
Face your ego and take the time to Google yourself to decide whether your online “brand” reflects you, or reflects the image you would like to reflect you. Just as it is your responsibility to maintain your Facebook and Twitter to reflect your present image, it is your responsibility to consider your Google image. If you are satisfied with how you’re being portrayed, then continue down that path. If not, then fix it. History is now, so the things you post to curate your present will simultaneously enter your personal Google search vortex.
It’s only logical that you should be concerned about your Google image, because presumably somebody will search your name and judge you accordingly. Yes, this is true. But who are these creeps, exactly? The number-one-creeps would be human resources departments across the country. If an employer is seriously considering you for a job or internship, the first thing they want to check is that you don’t have a criminal record, or vulgar photos, or an embarrassingly tween-y MySpace page. In fact, just delete your MySpace already.
That “creep” could also be the new guy you’re dating, your lab partner, your professor—it could be anybody. When you look at it that way, these people we know are not as creepy as they are concerned, and sometimes rightfully so. In 2004 a woman in New York searched her date’s name on Google and found an FBI warrant for his arrest. It turned out he was on the run after having allegedly stolen $100,000. When it came time for their date that weekend, she let the Feds take her place.
Google’s search engine is a more impactful social network than Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and certainly a more impactful social network than the company’s own Google Plus. Judgments can be made just as decisively from a few pages of links as they can from your statuses and photos. And while for the most part, your current Google image is established, your online actions continue to carry weight. You can’t change the past, but when it comes to the Web, you can change the past of the future.
Arvin Ahmadi is a Columbia College sophomore majoring in computer science and political science. He is a Spectator online staff developer. Tech Etiquette runs alternate Tuesdays.