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Thank you for not sharing

Posted by BJ Roche  January 2, 2012 01:51 PM

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"Privacy is highly overrated," a student pronounced after class one day last semester; she was following up on a discussion about the professional costs of exposing oneself too much online.

My first response was: how would you even know it's overrated? You've never experienced it. But when you're an old(er) person working with, and teaching about, technology you're always taking your own temperature. Was she right? Is it passe, or even bad advice to a young person building a career to suggest that you hold back a piece of yourself from the great digital maw? Does privacy matter any more?

I don't envy the next generation in navigating these shoals in the coming years. With too many smart people chasing too few smart jobs, it's crazy not to try everything you can to move ahead.

These days, the "conventional wisdom" is that, in any field, you use social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, and blogging to "build your personal brand" through direct, personal connections, revealing more of yourself to draw readers, buyers, and clients toward you and whatever it is you're selling, whether that's condos or ideas.

If you're new to all this, Haydn Shaughnessy writes about all this over at, including this post on How to Become a Social Media Influencer.

These days journalists are not just their own editors and publishers, but also their own circulation managers. (This is why my editor bugs me to post my work on Facebook, where I, in turn, nag my poor friends to "Share This." It's unseemly, dammit. But as long as you're here, if you wouldn't mind, there's a button you could click at the top of this post...) Facebook even has a tool that enables journalists to connect directly with their readers.

Now we're entering the point-oh stage of this phenomenon. What if what you're good at what you do, but your personal revelations actually repel people? Your co-workers may be taken aback to know that you're listening to James Brown's Get Up Offa That Thing on Spotify. Maybe it ticks clients off to read that their financial adviser is the mayor of Canyon Ranch this week. What if your shameless self-promotion makes people think you're a...shameless self promoter? Or if, after reading the umpteen hundredth sports-related tweet from a national political reporter, you say, hey, I don't care whether you like the Packers, I'm not following you anymore; begone?

Gawker had a post on this topic recently; citing this Nielsen survey about why people unfriend others on Facebook. Turns out there's probably a reason why you lost touch with all those people from high school.

Sometimes, less is more. I was updating my resource links for my spring career prep class this week and checked on a blog by career writer and entrepreneur Penelope Trunk, whose book, The Brazen Careerist, was on my book list. She used to write a career column that appeared in the Boston Globe, and I still use a few of those columns as handouts. Her advice back then was sometimes counterintuitive, but also pretty good.

What I got when I went looking for her was this.

I couldn't stop reading this, and I'm betting if you clicked on the link, you couldn't, either. But not because I was getting new insights into the job market. After a few screens, it becomes a sad, even alarming, affair. I'm going to wait until things get better for this writer before I refer my students to her site. You can see from the number and concern of the commenters that she has a dedicated following. But career advice, this is not.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

BJ Roche is a writer and teacher who lives in Western Massachusetts. She’s a senior lecturer in the Journalism Program at UMass Amherst, where she teaches writing, new media and More »

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