Being Exploited 

Every so often, a combination of curiosity, procrastination tendencies, and perhaps a dash of narcissism compels me to type my full name into the Google search bar. It’s extremely cringeworthy, but it satisfies some mysterious itch. My least favorite part is the images: 

  • An awkward prepubescent portrait of me with colorful braces on full display published without my knowledge by my local synagogue before my bat mitzvah. 

  • A ghastly pale headshot for an organization I was a part of in 11th grade taken just 30 minutes after I woke up (slept through my alarm). 

  • A photo of me mentoring younger journalism students on a really bad hair day on my high school’s Facebook page, also taken and uploaded without notice. 

Vanity aside, what bothers me most about this is the principle. It’s startling to me that I had no say in what information anyone in the world can access about me and moreover, that this information will be tied to my name indefinitely. 

Of course, I’m being somewhat dramatic. My digital footprint could be astronomically worse. I don’t have to worry about unsavory tweets, goofy social media accounts from middle school, or criminal records souring my online reputation. However, as someone who has tried my best to maintain a degree of anonymity on the internet for my personal protection — rarely using my full name and making private social media accounts — it's unsettling to have no control over what becomes publicly accessible information. 

Essentially, I’m being exploited. My likeness and actions are being used to market organizations and to satisfy any person’s curiosity about my life at the expense of my privacy, whether I like it or not. 

Exploiting Myself 

I would be remiss not to acknowledge the role that I play in exploitingmyself. The internet stores writings I authored about my experiences and opinions that some of my friends and family probably don’t even know about in such detail. 

This is largely due to infiltration of digital media in academic circles. Many classes have been requiring that I publish my writing assignments online. Oftentimes, I am expected to write editorial-style content or pull from my own experiences. This has taken form as a personalized Medium profile for my Writing 150 course, a Wordpress blog for a communications/journalism class, and articles distributed in student-run web publications like this. 

While I’m extremely grateful and privileged that my education teaches me valuable technical skills and provides me with a platform to share my love of writing with others, sometimes it feels like I need to exploit my personal hardships and life story, even if I don’t feel comfortable doing so, in order to receive a high grade or write a meaningful story. These writings are no longer kept confidential between student and instructor, but between student and an infinite amount of faceless internet users. 

On one hand, this is extremely empowering. Why should such thoughtful ideas and beautiful prose die in Google drives and dustbins? Our writing has the potential to educate, change minds, and in the case of identity-based-work, make people feel validated and normal in their experiences. I remember almost tearing up when a classmate in my Writing 150 class commented that she thought that a poem I wrote many years ago during a sad part of my life was quoted from somewhere else. I was so satisfied that my work, which would otherwise be locked up in my notes app, resonated with someone. It’s even more thrilling when some unknown person stumbles upon my content and interacts with it. There’s a childlike wonder in throwing words into the void like coins in a lucky fountain and hoping something comes of it. 

With this immense potential comes anxiety. I asked a few friends whether they think I should delete my Medium profile with identity-based content and received mixed advice. One of my friends suggested that perhaps Ishoulddelete it because it may deter future employers from hiring me. Perhaps they have a valid point. Maybe people will look at me less favorably because I’ve written stories about feminist beliefs and mental health struggles, which will ultimatley impact my professional prospects. 

In the case of articles published via external organizations, it's intimidating to think that I can’t delete anything. While print articles used to be distributed, digested, and discarded, with the advent of the internet, almost everything I ever publish will be digitally immortalized. 

Snapshots of my perspective atonepoint in time will stay with me for the rest of my life and be associated with my online “brand” and “ethos.” Even a tame example — the fact that I jumped on a bandwagon to say that Dua Lipa deserved “best new artist” in the 2021 Grammy’s over my all-time favorite, Kaytrada, bothers me to this day. How will I feel when I grow older and disagree with my past-self about more serious issues? 

The internet has no room for imperfection. Sometimes, you sleep through your alarm and don’t look the best for your headshot, you’re not interested in your assignment, or have to write something just for the sake of getting it done in light of all of the chaos in your life. It feels like there's really no room for bad days when most things I publish on the internet for organizations will become an indefinite fixture of my online persona. As a perfectionist, it’s been difficult to come to terms with the fact that in light of deadlines and life’s challenges, I will not always be able to produce online work, which reflects the very best of my abilities. 

While I continue to grapple with how to curate my online presence, I understand that there are some aspects of the internet that I may just have to accept for the time being. Considering that the internet, as a business model, profits off of selling our data to advertisers, a lack of privacy is inseparable from what the internet is. Both the search engines themselves and their nosy patrons want to know everything about you. 

Exploited and exploit-ING. This is the duality of the modern day writer.