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Internet Marketing and Web Development in Higher Education and other tidbits…

Digital Tattoos? Who Gives a Shit?

16 Mar 2010

written by Nikki Massaro Kauffman

Digital Tattoos? Who Gives a Shit?

I cursed on the Internet.  My professional career is over.  Let this be a lesson to all those little snots on social media that “everything you say and do on the Interwebs can be used against you in the nebulous future”.

Or as John Palfrey, author of Born Digital, warns, “…some people do certainly share too much information about themselves online. They’re going to have tattoos in the digital space that they want to get rid of a few decades from now.”

But when I think of the tattoo example, I think of my first job as a teenager, in a family restaurant.  People with tattoos had to cover them completely with bandages or clothing.  If they could not, they would be assigned a job in the back, as a dishwasher or cook.  I was warned that a misplaced tattoo would land me a career in dishwashing forever.

I did what any respectable aspiring teacher would do.  I waited until my 20s… and eventually inked a spot on my back that would be covered by school dress codes.

By the time I got my higher ed job, tattoos have become more commonplace.  Higher ed blogger @micala blogs about getting her tattoo and how her supervisor accepted the idea.

The point is that if enough people are doing something (like getting inked) it becomes part of a cultural norm.  Sooner or later the naysayers end up accepting it, whether or not they ever like it.  As long as what you do or say isn’t on the far, far outside the norm (like tattooing obscenities on your forehead), you gain acceptance with the group.

Having a public presence on the Web should be no different.  At some point, the things we say and do on in social networking sites and on blogs become norms.  And while there’s professional risk in having a public persona on the Web, there’s also a greater chance than online reputation will result in professional opportunities.

What do you think?  What online behaviors are acceptable now?  What online behaviors are outside the norm?  What ones might be overlooked 5, 10, or even 20 years from now?  Do you think some online behaviors will always cross the line?

(Note: I’m not saying we shouldn’t expect students to be digitally literate.  As a matter of fact, I’ll be talking about the need for digital literacy next week.)

The content of this post is licensed: ©2010 All Rights Reserved

About the author

Nikki Massaro Kauffman

Nikki is a multimedia specialist with Penn State's World Campus Learning Design unit, creating and editing multimedia for online courses.

Previously, she was technology training coordinator with the Penn State University Libraries, responsible for technology training offered in the Libraries' 20+ departments and 30+ library locations.  

Over the years, she's been she served as an interim associate director of instructional technology and multimedia, a programmer, a database specialist, a Microsoft Certified Master Instructor, a continuing education instructor for seniors and adults with disabilities, and a high school English and communications technology teacher.  

Her interests are in the areas where technology, training, and communication intersect.  She holds degrees in both computer science and in education.  She is also an insomniac and an extreme extrovert with an indiscriminate love of language (including expletives).

This post was written by - who has written 42 posts on .eduGuru

  • Kyle James

    I guess I try to make it a rule on the web that if I don’t have something positive to say then I usually don’t say anything at all. Of course I’ve broken this on multiple occasions. If I’m trying to be controversial then I also try and make sure that I’ve got a real solid case.

  • Mark Rothbaum

    I think you are spot on with this post. I think each successive generation pushes the boundaries and comfort zones of the previous ones. What seems outrageous today will be the norm tomorrow. And I think sharing your thoughts, ideas, and experiences online seems crazy to some, but is the norm for teens and college students.

    An example from my own family. A few years back, my dad flipped out when my sister got a 2nd piercing in one ear while in medical school. He thought she was hurting her chances of landing a job because of it. He figured patients would not feel comfortable going to a doctor with multiple ear piercings and, therefore, employers would hold it against her. Then, he went to her med school graduation and saw how many of the women had more than one piercing in an ear or a nose piercing or something else. And he realized that she was not out of the norm at all. That it likely wouldn’t affect her chances because employers would be eliminating such a large cut of the applicant pool if they took it into account.

  • Michael

    Overheard in a medical clinic waiting room in AD 2049:
    “Oh Mom, your doctor is so old-fashioned! Didn’t you see her tattoos?”

    Yes, time marches on. But not always in the same direction.

  • George “Beanmartian” Webster

    Great post! I’ve struggled with this for awhile. Being a newbie, I wanted to create a professional online identity….I would only post professional links and I would hold back on tweeting anything with my personal opinion in it for fear of the “nebulous future”… but the more I was online and the more I posted …my true personality began to emerge. I made jokes, I gave personal opinions… I even created a blog site filled with childhood screw ups and embracing moments.

    I’m still tactful in what I say.. but I’m much more willing to throw caution to the wind…and just be me.

  • Todd

    This guy has a tattoo or two, and isn’t afraid to tell you who he is:

    PSA: Don’t live a digital lie, be yourself.

  • Jenny Mackintosh

    I think it’s really tough to strike a balance between being yourself and being tactful. I might insert an expletive or two into a conversation with a close friend, but would I use that language in a conversation with my boss? Probably not.

    My general rule on Twitter (since my feed is public) is to try and be positive, be inquisitive and respond to people in a way that I would if I were talking to them in person. I want my “Twitter personality” to be an extension of my real personality… otherwise, what’s the point? As far as risks go, you can’t please everyone all the time. Being completely P.C. often times just makes you boring.

  • Nikki Massaro Kauffman

    @kylejames & @jennmack: Good point. I think being positive is an important thing to remember. It’s one thing to be critical of how we do things, and another to be critical of people. It’s even more important, since we (especially those in academia) shape our identities around what we do.

    @Mark & Michael: It’s interesting to think about things that were once unaccaptable becoming regular practice. There was a time when women didn’t wear pants in the workplace. Or casual clothing and jeans were not allowed, then casual days were limited to Fridays. Now there are workplaces where casual is the norm and professional dress is for exceptional days. I’ve even heard of IT people being feeling overdressed for an interview because the search committee was in jeans.

    @tsand: I can’t imagine you of all people are living a digital lie, sir (unless, of course, we consider all the imagications and photoshopping). I suppose you could re-imagine a digital identity for yourself to suit any social context, no?

    @beanmartian: As I say to my protegee, @_StefwithanF, use the context of what everyone else is doing as a guide. As long as you are within the norm, you’re probable safe. Glad to see you are becoming comfortable with being yourself online. It’s been great following you virtually and working with you in person yesterday!

  • Jonathan

    I like how tattoos were used as in example. However, I still feel that tattoos have not hit a knowledgeable acceptance with most workplaces. Yes, some tattoos should not be shown but overall it is just art. Otherwise, great post!

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  • Cheap Mascot Costumes

    I agree with this post almost in its entirety. Nowadays (talking from a person who lives in the UK), there are more and more employees who work in large chain stores, bars, restaurants etc who have visible (sometimes voluminous) tattoos. Not to mention the odd facial piercing.

    As far as digital tattoos, as with any trends, its good to play it safe and air on the side of caution in its infancy. Particularly when it comes to commenting on working life on social media. There has been numerous cases in the UK where employees have been fired based on comments written about their working culture on Facebook.

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  • Andrew V

    I think you should express yourself whichever way you’d like whether its online or offline. Who care if you do not follow a certain trend, who cares if it is outside the norm, just as long as its not far out the norm. The point is, these things are what spark conversations and make both the online and offline world go round.

    Thats my opinion…

  • Anonymous

    you really have a great point here. I’m was planning to get inked in the near future and i was seeing a lot of designs on the net for which tattoo or design will i get, and i stumble to your post here, and it seems that its more serious than I’ve ever though. Actually i never planned to get inked but because all of my badass cousins has tattoos, they boost me that i should get one too! since I’m also born in the year of the dragon and I’m the only dragon on the family that don’t haven’t got inked, but were are not planning to tell my parents though, we’ll just tell them after I got ink so there’s gonna not so much commotion. But hey, if this thing will affect my career then i should think twice before getting one, and should find a good place where the tattoo will be place…thanks for your post somehow you just save my future career as whatever i would be.


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