I got a LinkedIn request the other day:
“I think I have a funny photo of you next to my Van de Graaf machine when you were an intern at MAYA Design.”
I actually laughed out loud when I read this. I can totally remember the day I was playing with the Van de Graaf machine – I can only imagine how silly that photo looks. And it’s a summer of fond memories, too – MAYA was my first internship and my first interaction design job. It was pre-dot-com burst, so the office bore the hallmarks of a bunch of creative people with boundless earning potential long term. Our CEO’s office was full of orange playpen balls like you’d see at Chuck-E-Cheese. If you wanted to meet in there, you’d sit up to your waist in orange balls, laptop or notebook balanced precariously. And I (we) had a pet AIBO robot dog, which I adored. Tons of stories there, too. And on top of it all, I was doing design – and loving it.
But what really strikes me in moments like these is that in the age of the Internet, our past never goes away. It wasn’t always like this. And honestly, it doesn’t feel that odd… to me. But I found myself a month or two ago in the position of explaining LinkedIn to a group of very successful technical women 10 or more years my elder. They grew up on the other side of the Internet chasm, so they don’t have the natural instinct to use the Internet in that way. In fact, some of the women thought the mere act of maintaining a LinkedIn profile indicated someone was looking for new employment. I had to explain that, while finding new jobs is a big part of the LinkedIn experience, it’s not everything. I view my profile as another tool to help attract people to my current team. I can post openings and give a bit of context to who your coworkers might be. The updates help you find out when a friend might be in need of a new position. It’s a generally useful tool.
Yet, for those native to the other side of the digital divide, they’re less likely to use these sites in that way. If at all. My father doesn’t exist on the Internet. My mother has no Facebook profile. Her past isn’t going to come and find her later. (She does USE Facebook, which is another story.) On the other side of the spectrum, a coworker I spoke with a few times 11 years ago can find me and send me a silly picture of myself at my first job. I mostly find it comforting that all of these bridges remain up, if dusty, for use later in our lives. I’m grateful for that aspect of the digital revolution, but it’s helpful to remember that many of us weren’t on this side. To those my age – just imagine if we could not exchange email addresses before graduating! What would have become of our relationships?
But I might feel differently if the Internet revolution had happened prior to my early school years. Those glasses and that side ponytail should never be seen by ANYONE ever again.
EPILOGUE: I wrote this post on Thursday afternoon and saved it for Friday. Late Thursday night, I got a Facebook message – from my third grade teacher. Who ironically was one of the ones who saw me in those glasses and that side ponytail. But Mrs. Tickel was a fantastic teacher whose classes still stand out in my head – easily some of my all-time favorites – so in this case I’m happy the Internet revolution is extending its tendrils farther into my past. Even if it is a little creepy for my past to start showing up all at once.