A Texas high school teacher was discovered to have had nude photos of her taken while she was in college. Some parents are calling for her to be fired. Students, by contrast, are reallying to save her job (via). At the Texas Monthly, Dan Solomon asks if we're entering a new era where having some old naked photos crop up isn't a big deal. Naked selfies are becoming so common, he argues, that people will soon no longer be able to muster up any outrage about them.
This is something I've thought of a lot -- less from the naked selfie perspective than from the more general fact that far more of our lives (and particularly our young lives) are documented for posterity than ever before. As a society, we are forgetting how to forget -- everything you do is part of your permanent profile. Young people are constantly warned that those Facebook pictures of themselves at the kegger in high school could have serious consequences when they try to apply for jobs. Old transgressions can come back to shame people years later with a few well-placed google searches.
And that may be true, in the short-term. But in the long-term, I suspect it's more likely that we will systematically recalibrate our expectations. The shock value of a picture showing a guy passed out on the couch surrounded by PBR cans is dramatically diminished when the HR director has the same photos floating around. If everyone has embarrassing photos, dumb teen angsty poetry, and nude self-portraits scattered throughout the internet, then nobody does.
This has more profound consequences than I think are typically acknowledged. We talk about the dangers of the internet's limitless memory as if I current conceptions of shame, guilt, condemnation, and even personal continuity will survive intact. But it's at least as likely that the fact that a documented past is now the norm rather than the exception will cause significant alterations to all of these things. The regulation of underage drinking, for example, occurs now even though it is exceptionally likely that virtually every state and federal politician drank while underage. We know that, but we don't know that, and if a picture surfaced of Congressman John Doe drunk while in college would still be news. It's a different thing when the existence of these photos is commonplace and mainstream -- it prevents us from even maintaining the facade to shield ourselves from charges of hypocrisy -- or so I think.
The result, I hope, is a more forgiving society. If everyone's dirty laundry is out there for the rest to see, there's no sense preserving its status as reputation-annihilating. Reputation is a collective action problem, and the share-everything mentality of the internet helps resolve it. Or so I think.