I took my 15-year-old son to see Tufts University play Middlebury College in lacrosse last Saturday. Although mainly meant to be a “please-explain-this-sport-to-me” bonding event, we also saw an unexpected example of how online social networks are influencing real-world life.
The game was mobbed and we were pinned in at the sideline fence by students on all sides. Just to our left, an enthusiastic group of Tufts students started passing around a paper “dossier.” The clearly-proud owner of the papers told his buddies, “I asked a friend of mine at Middlebury to send me Facebook profiles for their lacrosse team. Help me figure out who’s who.” The knot of loud, beefy guys started eagerly cross matching Facebook profile names to the game’s roster and player numbers. That task completed, the real fun began.
Every time a Middlebury player came close to us, the gang of Tufts students scanned the targeted person’s Facebook profile for appropriate trash talk fodder. Needless to say, they never came up empty-handed. Every detail that the Middlebury guys had posted online was fair game…girlfriend’s names (and quickly, their reputations); embarassing events (one Middlebury guy had admitted to a particularly unfortunate loss of sphincter control at a local bar–man oh man did that get a lot of airtime); the fact that the Middlebury goalie’s dad is apparently the CEO of a prominent corporation inspired a game-long barrage of “silver spoon” insults.
When it was all over, I almost felt like we needed to brush all the airborne “dirt” off of us. (Not so my son. His reaction to all the hurl-burly and insults: “College is going to be soooo fun! I hope that fans do that to me some day. It will make me play even harder.”)
It all reminded me that, in general, when I speak with college students I am impressed with their savvy about building a resume and creating solid credentials to leverage their upcoming careers. But their high level of sophistication in that department is shockingly matched by a very low level of understanding about the way their digital “shadow”, threatens to tear down all their real-world accomplishments. (Businessweek covered this topic well, in an article geared for professional people.) If I had a son (wait a minute, I have three), I would strictly caution him (college athlete or not) to assume anyone, and I mean anyone (college admissions officer, hiring manager, opposing team fans, and even his mom), could be reading his Facebook profile, and any of his online content.
Sure, be yourself. But be your best self.