Today we’re continuing a series of posts from my Father, Lorenz J. Gude. This is number V. Although my Father writes mostly on politics these days over on his blog YankeeWombat, I believe our mutual interest in areas like media and technology are appropriate fodder for a blog like EXCELER8ion and RecruitingBloggers.
Big Chill II
Expressing strong – perhaps I should say edgy – opinions on a blog can make a person unemployable. Kim du Toit for example.
"….the shock of discovering that my website made me unemployable by corporate America came at a vulnerable time. Desperate to become gainfully employed after closing my consulting business for the business failure that was Did Today, I put my resume out for work (and it is a fairly impressive one, I have to say). As most of you know, the corporation that offered me a job disappeared from the face of the earth after finding my website. To this day they’ve never returned my phone calls, the cowardly lickspittles. A few months more got me several calls, but after ?due diligence? those calls too dried up.
I gave up looking."
Kim du Toit is a ‘he’ by the way and very much a man’s man. To put it neutrally he is a gun enthusiast and 2nd amendment gun rights advocate. He started his blog before he realized it might be a problem, but he wasn’t naive about the consequences when he contemplated starting a business. He knew that Google would make his blog easy to find – particularly with an unusual name like Kim du Toit. His software venture ‘Did Today’ probably failed for lack of backers because of his blog. He discussed the possible impact of his outspoken blogging history with his wife before trying to start the business.
"In the end, we decided that attempting to rewrite the past three years, or trying to cover it up, would be worse?Google will not be denied?but at the same time this blog could be a liability for the company.
Well, it was, just this past weekend. A prospective investor, check in hand, decided to do a little last-minute research, and Googled ?Kim du Toit?.
He?s no longer a potential investor.
His reasoning was pure business: having an outrageous conservative gun nut womanizer as CEO might become a public liability in years to come. And he could be right."
He is too harsh on himself with ‘womanizer’ in the usual sense – he doesn’t brag about extramarital exploits, he just posts erotic, not pornographic, pictures of his favorite women movie stars at the weekend on his blog. The rest is a succinct summary of his corporate liabilities. It’s just my opinion but I think what really makes Kim edgy to corporate America is that he enthusiastically reports incidents of citizens defending themselves with firearms against armed robbers and burglars and the like and makes no secret of the fact that he prefers it when the criminal ends up dead. I think it is important to recognize that the NRA (National Rifle Association) probably wouldn’t want to be associated publicly with his outspoken opinions, even if they agree with him privately. That is an important distinction. Public bodies, like the NRA and corporations cannot be associated with outrageous personal positions. It just isn’t what we think of as ‘professional’. So I would say that it is probably a good rule to not post material on the Internet that might be seen as ‘unprofessional’ or controversial if you ever want to work for an organization sensitive to such things.
A second easy lesson here it is that if you are going to blog about edgy stuff – make it anonymous. Blogging is not only more public than we think it is, it also stays around and can come back to haunt you. Sure you can take down your blog, but there are cached pages available and then there is all the material on other people’s servers that has been written about you. A good example of someone using a pseudonym effectively is Neo-neocon. She is a member of a very liberal family and profession in the very liberal northeast part of the US and blogs anonymously to make it easier to keep the peace. Even if her friends and family that disagree with her politically discover her blog, the anonymity makes it so they don’t have to bring it up. I would speculate there would be limits to how far employers would normally go researching your history on the Internet – the CIA and other tightasses excepted – and that in practice most people will just have to make it a common sense rule to mask their more edgy material with anonymity in order to steer clear of unemployability.
We all get to see events through the lens of our own obsessions but bloggers are particularly blessed in that they can share their obsessions with their fellow netizens. Take the case of Representative Foley and the inappropriate e-mails and instant messages he sent to a 16 year old House of Representatives page. My interest is in the – hold your breath – media aspects of the incident. That’s right, I’m going to skip right over all the good stuff and talk about McLuhan’s idea that we remain unconscious of the potential of new media long after they come into general usage and go on thinking they follow the rules of their predecessors long after we should know better.
What do we have here in media terms? Love/lust letters on the Internet. As McLuhan predicts the content of new media are at first just the content of older media. Old wine in new bottles. What we miss according to Mcluhan is that we see only the wine and miss that the new bottles are not the same as the old bottles. Thus Gutenberg printed the Bible – the most in demand book at the time which had previously been produced by hand. He didn’t think of printing magazines and newspapers as his successors did- much less get it that novels might be a good seller. We think the content is the whole story and miss that the new medium works by different rules and has different potentials than its precursors.
Rep Foley’s e-mails have been described as over friendly, the instant messages as sexually explicit – just like heaps of love/lust letters that have gotten previous generations in trouble. I’m not denying that there is a clear case of sexual misbehavior and misuse of power here. That is a content issue; I’m focusing on the form here. What I am saying is that this is yet another case of someone thinking that their behavior on the Internet is transitory like private conversations – or ‘what happens in Las Vegas’. The nature of the Internet is that it remembers. Keeps copies, caches copies, backs up copies. What happens on the Internet stays on the Internet, but not like Las Vegas – it stays forever and can come back to bite you. Rep Foley just didn’t get this aspect of the medium as future generations undoubtedly will. It feels anonymous and/or private when it is not. Future public figures will be more careful of what they say on the Internet as a matter of course and will back quickly away from any statement that could be used against them – just the way they do now when microphones are pointing at them. I don’t think that Rep Foley would have expressed his sentiments so freely in a signed letter because he understands the rules of signed love/lust letters. Yet old fashioned love/lust letters are much harder to find than e-mails and IMs. It occurs to me that he might well have been cautious enough not to say the things he did on the phone – again because we are all aware that a phone might be tapped. Perhaps he didn’t realize was that he would have actually been safer from discovery chatting up his pages on the phone.
From the point of view of political content it was supremely embarrassing that Representative Foley was responsible for legislation designed to protect children on the Internet. From a media studies point of view using McLuhan’s ideas, it is a supurb example of how individuals are unconscious of the real characteristics of an emerging medium. No less a techie than Bill Gates denied on the witness stand having said things that were clearly in e-mails from himself carefully preserved by Microsoft’s thorough back up procedures. The Medium is the Message
[tags]Kim du Toit, Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Message, Corporate Blogging, Blogging Policy, Blog Policy, Rep Foley, Foley Scandal[/tags]