April 3, 2008

“Self-literacy” in the information age

Our “Digital Footprints” research found that many Americans are jumping into the participatory Web without considering all the implications. If nothing really bad has happened to someone, they continue to neither worry about their personal information nor take steps to limit the amount of information that can be found about them online.

But “self-literacy,” or knowing what information is available about you online, is becoming a critical component of digital literacy in the information age.

Over time, as more of us stumble (or crash) into our own personal data leftovers gone bad, we may change the way we think about the persistence of the information we share in public and semi-public spaces. As a society, we may become more forgiving of teenagers and college students who aren’t always in control of what information (good or bad) gets posted about them online. As parents, we may also learn lessons from our children’s experiences that urge the whole family to become more savvy about privacy choices online.

However, at the moment, many adults are blissfully unaware of even the most basic information that might be found through a simple search. About half of online adults have never done the simple act of using a search engine to look up their own name online.

On the path to self-literacy, "Googling" yourself might be considered the first step on a path towards greater information awareness. For those who are interested in taking your online identity management to the next level, see Life Hacker’s recent feature on how to "Manage Your Online Reputation."