Monday, August 16, 2010

Pure As the Driven Snow, I Tell You

I was intrigued by this post by Danah Boyd at Apophenia about name changes.

Apparently Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, has suggested (in a Wall Street Journal article that also raises some interesting points about net neutrality and the ability to 'walk away' from web services) that, in a world where everyone's youthful indiscretions are chronicled in merciless detail on the web, people will simply start changing their names when they get older, in order to break the historical link with said indiscretions.

Boyd finds this implausible, not only because legally changing your name is "a Pain in the F* Ass," but because, in a world of merciless indiscretion-chronicling which also has freely available and powerful search tools (a world, perhaps, much like our own), people would be able to find out what your prior name was anyway.

She's also talking about reputation in this post, and points out that very few people have the kind of utterly monstrous reputation that makes it worthwhile to raze the fields of one's personal history and salt the earth so nothing can ever grow again.

Most of us, while we may have some embarrassing moments that we're sorry everyone knows about (not me, of course!), also have certain achievements associated with our names.

We graduated from schools, had jobs, made friends. Rated clips on YouTube, tagged photos, maybe wrote or commented on blogs, generally built a name for ourselves in on- and offline communities. People know who we are. Some of them probably like us. We have connections.

I like this point about reputation. I think probably most of us wouldn't really want to just walk away from our pasts--even when people do change their names, often along with a life event like marriage, they're not usually trying to ditch everything associated with the name they had up until then.

I haven't ever done anything all that interesting, but anything even sort of interesting that I've done, I've done with the name I have. It would take some seriously chronicled indiscretions to make me want to break the link to the things I've done with my (totally unsullied!) reputation so far.

I may have a checkered past (although I don't!), but I'm not trying to get away from it.


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