Last night I submitted pictures of myself at four and at forty to the web project When I Was Little, and they were posted there this morning. One of my co-workers came by to tell me that he and his wife–another co-worker–had seen the link to the site from Yahoo! Picks, and saw my pix there this morning as well.
This was an odd experience; given the sheer volume of information on the web, I really didn’t think it likely that someone from work would come across that site, especially not within just a couple of hours of my pictures having been added to it. I’m not bothered by the two of them specifically having come across the site (Tim and Michelle are two of the coolest people at work). After all, I’ve had a presence on the web since 1994. I’ve often used a nickname (elflad), but it was never meant as a shield behind which to hide in anonymity, and I was usually pretty readily identifiable by the other personal data I shared. Lots of information from previous jobs and USENET postings, among other resources, certainly are available by googling me (and I’ve done my share of googling the people who come into my own life). In 1995 this issue even came up during a job interview, when the VP for the department into which I was applying (and I did get the job) asked me why I would be so open about myself (and at the time I assumed he meant specifically the acknowledgement in my site of my sexual orientation) in such a public forum.
I never really thought much about it before, but recently I’ve noticed this and other similar themes being discussed in a number of venues. In one blog I read the other day, the author suggested that nicknames/aliases were a vestige of the past, and that he would begin using his real name; I’ve recently begun doing the same here on my journal, and somewhat less consistently when I comment on others (old habits are hard to break). On a local DC shared blog, as a counter-example, one contributor has asked that his real name be removed and a pseudonym used instead, as he is currently applying for a job and thinks he may be googled.
I’ve always thought myself of the opinion that any employer or prospective employer who would choose to terminate my employment or not hire me because of something I’ve written online, isn’t an organization whose values I share or with whom I’d want to work anyway. But I do find a twinge of something like concern or doubt now that folks at my current workplace–given some of the comments I’ve made about the environment and even some of my co-workers–have come across those pix, which include a link back here to my journal. I know that those pix already have been shared with other co-workers, so it wouldn’t be surprising if some of them ended up reading these entries. It’s certainly possible, then, for these recorded thoughts–all of which I stand behind as truly representing some of my feelings at the time, though they’re obviously purely subjective, rarely tell the full story, and are not always flattering, even to myself, perhaps most especially to myself–to end up in front of my peers or my supervisor.
I would never have worried about this at any of the places I’ve worked in the past–dot-coms, public television, small friendly not-for-profits–but I do find myself thinking that the federal government just isn’t as tolerant a working environment. It’s a sentiment I already find myself wrestling with on a day-to-day basis as I continue to bump up against bureaucracy, regulations, tradition and a degree of social conservatism (or perhaps just privacy) I’d not experienced before. I noted to Sheldon and Lisa last night that I’ve never worked someplace before where I didn’t develop strong social relationships with at least a few of my co-workers; I’ve been here for nine months, and have only developed one friendship (and a couple of acquaintances that could conceivably become friends), and have only been out of the office for lunch with colleagues four times, and three of those were formally organized as going-away luncheons.
I’m still struggling with whether this job is the right fit for me. I’m pretty sure I’m accomplishing things here, but I don’t know if I can be happy here over the long haul… and my bureau and agency often are said to be the best places within the federal government.