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Betsy Hart: Talk about your past catching up with you…

I have seen the future ó or, rather, the past? And it is Facebook.
For those folks my age who might not know this, the social networking site is now, as a dear friend put it, the new social spot for the AARP set.
Talk about your past catching up with you.
News reports this week revealed that Facebook traffic is up almost 150 percent from this time last year. More than 175 million people are on it! For those in the 35-and-older crowd, traffic is up by almost 25 percent from a year ago.
In the last six months alone, countless friends my age and even (ahem) those more mature have started using Facebook.
At the moment, I only dabble in it. I don’t have a lot of time to waste on anything ó much less coming up with charming “status” updates about whatever mundane thing I’m doing at the moment.
But I do know from even dabbling that my past has become my present.
I have only one photo of myself posted on my page. One. It’s a professionally shot photo that cost more than I care to admit, taken a few years ago for my book, “It Takes a Parent.” To this day, my brother declares the photographer a “magician” and notes that whatever I paid him wasn’t enough.
I thought I had successfully destroyed or hidden all photos of me taken before I was about 25, or at least only made them available to close friends for a laugh.
All my careful work was recently undone when a friend from both junior and senior high school decided to “tag” (label) me in a sixth-grade photo. Now everyone on his friends list and mine knows the truth about what a nerd I was then. Arrrgh. Thanks a bunch.
Such things keep cropping up.
One thing I find really annoying? The number of women friends who have called me in the last few months with tales of being contacted by high-school or college boyfriends via Facebook, and asking what to do about these blasts from the past. Never mind my advice. What I’m really thinking: “Not a single former boyfriend, except Derek from third grade, has found me via Facebook. Not one!” Sheesh.
Oh well. Maybe that all has something to do with being a nerd in junior high.
Here’s the point: There was a time when a young person could act like an idiot, or just like a young person, and it didn’t have to follow you the rest of your life. I’m not talking drunk driving and indiscriminate sex, which have their own serious consequences. I’m talking about just plain foolishness. Acting like an idiot at a party, for instance. Or ó I don’t know ó beating up a girl who tried to steal your high-school boyfriend, just to choose a totally random example.
Or, having 200 people over to your house when your parents were out of town your sophomore year ó with the neighbor at the time still saying he wishes he’d had the parking concession that night ó just to go with another totally made-up possibility.
For good or ill, it’s now the case that whatever we do, all the things we think we can leave behind, can now follow us our whole lives. That’s especially the case with younger people, and the hard photographic evidence of misdeeds. Think Michael Phelps. (Or just consider that potential employers routinely mine Facebook and similar sites for evidence of misdeeds.)
As parents, that means a word to the wise ó or the unwise, in the case of our kids: “Honey, if you are not careful, years from now you might be tortured by a lot more than just an old picture of you with big hair.”
As Betsy Canfield from junior high, I don’t like this world. As mom-of-four Betsy Hart, I love it.
– – –
Betsy Hart writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact her through betsysblog.com.

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