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Yesterday this topic came up in our ePortfolio group meeting, so I just wanted to reflect on it here a bit. The question that came up was essentially "How do I know if the things I am writing in my blog are TOO personal, not professional enough, or even inappropriate"

Its an interesting question, and it fascinates me because I encounter someone seemingly on a weekly basis that says or does something in person, in real life, that I would consider to be highly inappropriate. A recent example happened to my wife at the AAUW used book sale. The person in question was on the floor, in front of my wife, digging through some used books under the table. If you have never been to the used book sale before, its worth going if only to witness how it brings out the absolute worst in people. Anyway, my wife suddenly had to sneeze, and so sneezed into her arm, as is the fashion with the kids these days. So this woman then turns around with a look of absolute horror on her face and says directly to my wife, "THAT'S DISGUSTING". Mind you, this thing takes place in the PSU Ag Arena, an inherently gross environment, and involves millions of old books, and all the dust and detritus that entails. 

By the way, this reaction, and the way it was said was not done in such a way that gave the impression that this lady thought she was sneezed ON, because in fact she wasn't. She didn't touch her hair or otherwise make any gesture to suggest that she was offended by any thing other than the simple fact that my wife executed a textbook covered sneeze.

I can sympathize with this woman to an extent. I too am disgusted by people's bodily functions in public. I hold my breath when walking past a smoker, move discreetly away from someone coughing up a lung, and visibly wince when the guy in front of me spits on the sidewalk. But I would never even DREAM of actually confronting the offending person about it, let alone in such a condescending way. Why? Partly because to me its hard to fault someone personally for having to cough, sneeze, or spit, something every human has to do at sometime or another in public. But also its partly because I think its one thing to have a passing thought based on a visceral reaction about another person, but its a whole different thing to actually judge them about something like that, let alone out loud and to their face. Everybody has to sneeze sooner or later.

So to bring this back around to the online world, what fascinates me about the above question is why is it that we are so concerned about how we present ourselves in the online format? What is essentially happening here is that we are deliberately constructing an identity, and the nature of identity construction is that it may or may not be (and probably isn't) who we really are. Do we want to construct a separate, "professional" but potentially false identity, in the hopes of ensuring future employment? Or do we go for authenticity, and let the chips fall where they may, even if we end up putting too much of our personality into a post or ten? 

To make matters worse, the questionable posting we are really talking about here are the border cases. I think most people have a common understanding of the extreme cases. Detailed bathroom behavior, for example, is probably not something you should be writing about in your blog. Suppose for example, I am working on a project with a group of people, and it doesn't go so well. Maybe somebody isn't pulling their weight. Maybe the project was not resourced properly from the start. Whatever. Do I write about it? Certainly even if I don't mention names, the person who is not pulling their weight, if they ever read the entry, will know who they are and possibly have their feelings hurt. Or what if I write about something that doesn't seem at all offensive to me, but somebody 20 years in the future is offended by it?

There is no correct answer to this. The best I can say is it is up to your own individual circumstances.

The trick to this online thing though is that while the "THAT'S DISGUSTING" comment above only lives on and rapidly decays in our memories (although in truth "THAT'S DISGUSTING" has now replaced "GODBLESSYOU" in my house when someone sneezes), what you write in your blog will never decay. It is the permanent record, available for all to see. Even if you remove it or edit it, it could end up in the google cache.

So not only are we creating this online identity, for better or worse, but it is something that we absolutely are supposed to get right the first time, because it is nearly completely indelible. I believe that this is something that we, as a society, are going to have to get over. How can we possibly know what among the border cases is going to be socially acceptable 20 years from now. The idea of an employer doing a google or facebook search on potential employees is dangerous because instead of judging whether the person can get the job done, you are essentially judging them on whether they are skilled in crafting a hidden identity. You are judging them on how good they are at tricking you into believing that they never sneeze in public.

The strength of the ePortfolio is that it is meant to provide evidence of development over time. We have to get this idea into our collective heads now. What has that guy on facebook with the pic of himself holding a pot plant done in the 5 years SINCE he's graduated? If he's managed his ePortfolio, you might have more evidence and a better idea of if he's hirable or not.

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God bless you, Jamie! LOLVery interesting post.http://www.personal.psu.edu/jpm165/blogs/j-tech/2010/06/thats-disgusting.html... Read More


I was stunned to read your post - very shocking that someone would do that. However, this was a great way to provide and example of an experience from your personal life and reflect on something that is presently going on in our workforce, the ePortfolio Pilot. Thank you for sharing this. It was enlightening. Oh yeah, and God Bless your wife:-)

Really enjoyed this post! Not just because of the humor. (Remember I taught middle school for 13 years and it made for a fun time when things like this happened.) but it also highlights the idea of professional and personal growth.

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