At age 15, I asked my parents if I could get a tattoo. They responded with some sound advice - tattoos are permanent and you don't want to do anything that will embarrass you when you're older. I chose not to proceed with my little rebellion and have no regrets. But times have changed. Tattoos can be removed and anyway, they're not the white-collar career killer they once were. In fact, in creative circles, they can be viewed as a sign of innovative self-expression, or, even more telling, ignored completely.
I often think of my parents' sage advice when I hear stories about today's jobhunters whose past decisions have come back to haunt them on the Internet. Unfortunately, it's a lot easier to thwart your future career aspirations these days. With a click and a keystroke, young people can sentence themselves to a lifetime of embarrassment as potential employers unearth drunken karaoke performances, poses in various stages of undress, or hateful diatribes typed in the heat of anger. And even if they don't post the offending items themselves, there's nothing to stop well-meaning (or coldly calculating) friends from doing it for them.
I don't judge these kids. Rather, I am thankful that these tools did not exist when I was young and foolish because I most certainly would have been a casualty of their ease and permanence. Long before I was middle-aged and conservative, I too lived in the moment, broke the rules and frequently found myself in situations of which I am not proud. I said things I didn't mean, did things that weren't becoming and sported hairstyles and apparel that was decidedly unflattering.
From an etiquette point of view, social networking sites like Facebook and My Space are almost unworthy of debate. Discretion is one of the pillars of courtesy and the Internet, by its very nature, is exceedingly indiscreet. Sharing only what's relevant, eliminating salacious details and modesty about one's achievements are all essential to good manners.
So, in an age where people are encouraged to air their dirty laundry on talk shows and win reality show competitions by proudly backstabbing their opponents, is there a place for discretion?
I believe so. In the rabble of today's society, discretion helps you stand out from the crowd and as a good friend of mine says, a sense of mystery keeps 'em guessing.