It is now the spring semester of my junior year and, like many other students, this means one thing: time to start looking for internships.
In any year, the job search is a soul-deadening process, but this is 2014. The job market is now an even more desperate realm in which a potential candidate must file down the sharp edges of their personality in order to fit into the round hole of faceless corporatism. In the Social Media age, this spring cleaning takes another, more insidious form: Digital Dirt.
Digital Dirt refers to aspects of one’s internet life (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.) which could be considered “unsavory” to interviewers. What seems like an uncontroversial idea – “Don’t look like a loser to one’s employer” – belies several biases under closer investigation.
To start with the obvious, the digging up of Digital Dirt is just another part of the ongoing mission to blur and eventually erase the line between workers’ public and private lives. In a 2009 cnn.com article on the subject, “virtual team coach” Zack Grossbart said, “Hiring someone is scary. You’re paying them to represent your company.” This sort of perspective scares me, because it assumes that anything an employee does, on the job or not, eventually ties back to the employer. It is this sort of thought that leads to the firing of marijuana users for smoking legal pot in their own free time.
Interestingly, alcohol users stay employed. Why? Because the blurred lines of corporatism rely on the dislikes and biases of the older generation. In that same CNN article, online safety advocate Marian Merritt advises candidates to, “Consider your overtly controversial activities such as political, religious, or social movements.” This mirrors another piece of advice given to job searchers: Don’t include anything in a resume that could be grounds for discrimination. Apparently, in our job market, the discriminated against are the ones truly to blame for workplace discrimination.
In the end, though, it is wrong-headed thinking about the relation between one’s online life and work life that is truly to blame for the insulting concerns about “Digital Dirt.” Not to get all post-modern on my readers, but I believe that our social media-laden age not only allows for, but almost requires a fracturing of identity that the older generation is simply unequipped to understand. Within the context of each service, we cultivate and curate separate identities from our offline lives. Even the differences between the ways we present ourselves on Twitter and Facebook might be as profound as the difference between our Facebook and real life. As children of the internet age we can juggle these various facets of our lives, but to the 45 percent of employers who do dig around for digital dirt (CNN.com), the idea of such a difference is unheard of. To them, the risqué jokes I tweet or statuses I update will be the things I say in an email to a client.
Of course, as the younger generation, we will still be forced to censor ourselves online or may take several generations before the nuances of social media are finally appreciated. It might not happen at all. No matter how the corporate world attempts to change our worldviews, it is important to remember that we, both our on- and offline selves, are more than just a “brand” to sell to employers. Get out there and do some inappropriate tweeting.