But I Was Young and Stupid

One of the things we’re so frequently warned about is to be careful what we put on the Internet because once it’s out there it’s out there for good. So, if you plan to be a NYT bestselling author and don’t want your readers to someday know the story of exploits on a bar top, you might not want to post the story or the photos anywhere online. But for how long will we really have to worry about this?

We live in an age when the Internet is an integral part of our lives. There is rarely a day out of 365 that I don’t log on for some reason, usually it’s to check email and do work, but sometimes it’s just to find a recipe or search for Santa. We are raising children who think it’s normal to video chat with Grandma and see their dance recital photos posted online; they live a much more public life than the one we were used to as children and someday those children will be running the world. I have to think that this stress on being careful about what you post online because it could haunt you 15 years from now might be less and less important as the days go by. After all, if I find drunken spring break pictures of you I don’t judge who you are now based on that. Why would I? I assume that you are no longer feathering your hair and wearing neon leg warmers so I also have to assume you’ve stopped dancing on bars and listening to Milli Vanilli.

I know this has little to do with publishing and I’m not saying you shouldn’t be conscious of what you post, we should always be conscious of what we post, I’m just suggesting that it already doesn’t matter as much as it did five years ago and won’t matter as much five years from now.


Category: Blog



  1. i've been wanting to ask this for a while, and this post is perfect.
    what happens if you have done something really really stupid when you were really really young (well, 18 yo, but young!) and it's on the net?
    say, nude photos?
    should you use a pen name and not tour?
    or will your publishers stand behind you if such photos come to light? (photos are under a different *fake* name, but you can tell a face!)

  2. Anon 8:05 I'm often curious too ;), but I think this one stems from the many, many questions I receive from people wanting to know if they need to use pseudonyms because of indiscretions in their youth.

    Anon 8:39 I suspect you'll get a different answer depending on the agent you're working with. I'd leave it at that, ask your agent when you have one. Obviously this would be a huge issue if you are writing inspirational fiction or a nonfiction book on morality. However, depending on the photos, it could also be to your advantage. And if you write erotica, you might want to advertise it 😉

    Kim: I always knew you were a Milli Vanilli fan


  3. I agree with you. I do, however think it is important to stop before you click the publish button and think about what you say. Many people publish snarky angst and that generally doesn't bother me. In fact it can be entertaining, but I think slander or defamation of character or even disrespect of other people will come back full circle. We might forget a photo or youthful immaturity, but we seldom forget scathing words or who wrote them.

    I'm a daily reader of your blog, and I must say, I look forward to my morning coffee and your daily post. Thanks for writing.

  4. We're all celebrities now, in the public via Twitter, LinkedIN, MySpace, Facebook, on agents' blogs, etc. Can it lead to accepting flubs, faults, & flaws? The more content that builds in the public forum, the less it will hold weight according to this reference I encountered via Twitter. Albeit old, 2002, it still holds merit. Anil Dash makes a pitch to own your identity, and own your name. I concur.

    Word verification: unhoax (?). I'm not ready for full disclosure, yet! I shall still lurk as The First Carol.

  5. I totally agree it will become less important as there gets to be more and more people who have more and more available information. It's like Clinton feeling compelled to say 'I didn't inhale' but the candidates since can say "I experimented, I don't do it anymore"–we will get desensitized.

    I think though, it completely depends on the content and necessary credibility. A politician for instance, will always have a competitor willing to dig up dirt no matter HOW old. Writers with content somebody might want to 'debunk' may have to be more careful. (seems more applicable to non-fiction)

    It seems to me though, fiction writers, except the narrow market with a vested interest in being squeaky clean, shouldn't have to worry all that much.

  6. This has been the most entertaining post this morning! I choked on my coffee but managed not to ruin important docs.ha I almost wish I had naked pictures now……all I have are hideous drunken ones with huge feathered hats. Don't ask….it made perfect sense at the time.

    Important topic though, better to be careful now than regret it later.

  7. One of my strongest talents is to make mistakes on the internet. I'm extraordinarily good at it.

    I really appreciate this post.

    Thank you.

  8. That's a great point, Jessica. I never thought about it that way, that weird internet stuff will eventually be blase and "normal." FB started when I was in college, and when I joined, we posted anything because it was just friends and other college kids who'd see it. I'm still getting used to modifying my online presence since my bosses and coworkers are on FB too.

  9. Frankly, I'm more concientius that "everyone" has a cell phone camera, so think cameras everywhere recording everything. At least in the 80s and early 90s we knew that all our coyote ugly dancing would be discussed and then would die away, not recorded for endless play on youtube!

  10. it's taking photos of yourself nekkid, in your bathroom, at 3 a.m. that seems to trip people up (Beyonce sister's friend). Or, taking pictures of yourself having unprotected anal sex (Oscar Winner, Dustin Lance Black.) The latter being particularly humiliating.

    The issue isn't so much what though but control of a digital copy: once it is out of your hands and posted, infinite copies can – and will be – made.

    And sex pix, unless you're planning to becoming a porn performer, should be as discrete as possible. Or not made at all.

  11. I think everyone, including those who are younger and sometimes more prone to said indiscretions should be a little more careful.

    I know that's probably an oxymoron, as we've all done stupid things. I've had my share of silly Facebook photos but thankfully whatever my parents taught me overruled my desire to go out and party and/or do something foolish on camera (i.e. flashing or something else more explicit o_O)

    Perhaps I was an oddity during my college years and that's probably carried on to now at 24. I think I'm probably an oddball in my age range since I don't really like going to bars at all. 😛

    I guess I'm over cautious, especially now when pictures and video could circulate around the world very easily–and there are many employers that won't look too kindly on that, especially if said party-goer is working for them.

  12. I'm with anon 8:05…

    This is great. I'm a newly published author and the friend (with FOUR degrees) who's bringing into the twentieth century (I now have twitter) says all publicity is good publicity *cheese grin here*

    I hope she's right….

  13. I am always amazed by what some people post on their profiles on Facebook. If they gave it any thought whatsoever I am certain they'd realize that drunk photos or four-letter word status updates will not only not impress their future employers, but would absolutely shame their parents. A good rule in life is "If I'm not able to say it to my mother, I shouldn't be saying it"!

  14. Interestingly enough, the NY Times had a piece about Facebook making information sent in messages — you know, those private ones you send to you sister, etc. — public just yesterday.

    I'm thinking this could change things drastically. Even if Facebook sells the information and doesn't give it away to everybody, it could still reach people you don't want it to.

    Article URL:

  15. Chistina,

    The Fb policy change only makes "status messages, photos and videos" public, not the private messages such as those "to your sister" as in chat or direct messages. And even the status messages, photos and videos CAN be made private if the user bothers to change their settings accordingly.

  16. Jessica, I PLEADED with you not to tell anyone about those picture of me in the lime green tights doing karoke on a bar in WestBumLuck Orygon!! And here you've posted it for all to see!! I cringe. I wail.

    I guess there's only one thing left to do: MEMOIR!!

  17. I expect to be facing the task of self-promotion for my books in the next one or two years (agent secured!), and didn't know where to start, until now. Thanks guys.

  18. The whole "Pics of me drunk or passed out" phenomenon escapes me. That's about the last point in my life I'd want immortalized on someone's Facebook page.

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