In some sense, this is really just an extension of the problem of managing your public persona as you go through transitions in life.
Maybe it’s something even deeper than that. Maybe it’s a piece of the project of deciding who you are and what kind of person to be.
How we present ourselves to other people leaves traces. Our interactions with others create components of the environments that other people live in and respond to. Our words have consequences, and so do the moments where we are silent.
Now, we may think of ourselves as being a particular kind of person on the inside, but from the point of view of the world we share, it’s hard for me to believe that we aren’t largely constituted by the stuff be bring out of ourselves. And I don’t think that there’s a principled difference between the stuff we bring out of ourselves in a three-dimensional conversation transmitted by sound waves and the stuff we bring out of ourselves in a blog post. Both are instances of communication that give others at least circumstantial evidence about what kind of person we are.
Is it fair to hold people accountable for what kinds of people they are?
Living our lives online, of course, means that some of the stages of becoming ourselves that we’d rather forget are preserved for later examination by others. Our conversations that feel private (because they are conducted against the noisy background of a gazillion such online conversations) can become more public. Our safe spaces can fall prey to the scrutiny of the classmates, advisors, bosses, family members, or whoever else was creating the non-safe space from which we were seeking relief.
We might have actually stated a position strongly and then, later, changed our minds.
Our past is out there on the internets. But testimony about our past would be available even in the absence of the internet (unless, once the recommendations are signed and sent, you’ve arranged for the speedy demise of all those who mentored you — something against which I recommend in no uncertain terms). Opting out of leaving an online footprint is not going to give you full authority to tell the story of who it is you are and how it is you came to be that way. Your “authorial intent” in living your life matters, but the lives your life touches give their own testimony, and sometimes the story takes a turn you neither expected nor intended.
The big issue, perhaps, is to figure out how much we think it matters where people have been, rather than where, and who, they are now.