In catching up on some podcasts over the break, I found a wonderful segment called Life Archive from the weekly NPR program On The Media that should be required listening for every high school student (and more than a few adults).

The focus of the story is a 25 year old man who is holding a “funeral” for his old name.

He’s changing his name because of a somewhat risque article he wrote for his college newspaper, one which still pops to the top of a Google search, and which he feels may hinder his new career as an elementary school teacher.

I picture a kid saying, I googled you last night and I found a really funny article or a really weird article. I picture losing my authority, in some ways, you know. I feel like I would have made a joke of myself in front of my students. There’s parents googling. I mean, I guess that’s another huge fear.

And even if I were hired by a school that was really understanding and might take the position of, well, you know, he was in college and things happen, I don’t really want to put any of my future employers in that position, of having to defend that. I don’t want to be a problem or a liability for anyone.

The larger story, of course, is that the web is a very persistent place.  Anything you post, or even something you thought was only intended for print, will be sucked up into some archive somewhere on the net waiting to be retrieved with just a few keywords.

While that’s a lesson we should be teaching our kids everyday, we need to go beyond that.  We should also be helping them understand how to be proactive about crafting their public perception on the web.

Those “youthful indiscretions” on the web are not going away.

However, a portfolio of thoughtful, interesting, creative work built over their student career could go a long way to balancing those negative images.

We should be teaching kids how to build a positive life archive.

Image: archive_w_7295 by Aureusbay, used under a Creative Commons license.