There are many advantages to having one foot in the analogue age and the other in the digital; but perhaps the best is that you come to the latter as a fully-formed adult having avoided growing up in public. At one time, the only individuals whose lives were ‘Truman Show’-like open books from birth were the children of celebrities or those at the front of the queue when it came to Royal Succession; with the advent of social media, the goldfish bowl previously reserved for the unenviable elite has expanded to become a global housing estate. It’s now customary for parents-to-be to post scans of their foetuses, followed by galleries of their newborn cherubs, and then for each stage of the toddler’s evolution to be documented online. The narcissistic assumption that everyone beyond family is as captivated by the process as the parents used to be manifested as an exclusive treat for the luckless physical visitor, condemned to perusing a photo album featuring a thousand-and-one variations on a boring theme. Today, however, the whole world can share in this dubious honour.
And, of course, as junior comes into the world cyber-literate, it is second nature for him or her that every phase of their development will be performed on the cyberspace stage, even when they wrestle a degree of control from mummy and daddy. In this climate, every proclamation, observation and statement that might later lead to personal embarrassment is something that can henceforth be invoked by anyone. By contrast, those born on the preferable side of the digital divide can rest easy in the knowledge that only the few comprising our circle of friends and acquaintances at the time were exposed to any toe-curling embarrassments – and most have probably long since forgotten them. Thoughts expressed in private diaries seen only by the author were secure in their anonymity and, unless captured on video or audio, any such thoughts aired publicly were transient moments as ephemeral as a theatrical production seen by nobody but those present at the performance. The ‘digital generation’ have no such get-out-of-jail card; their equivalent moments are preserved forever.
Anybody with the merest semblance of curiosity about life does not remain rigidly set in stone when it comes to their views and opinions; as you learn and experience more of what life has to offer, one’s perspective on all it can afford alters and adapts to the new surroundings. Therefore, the person I am today is not the person I was as recent as five years ago, let alone twenty-five years ago and certainly not forty-five years ago; in the case of the latter, it would be exceptionally odd if I hadn’t changed, for I’d be the oldest schoolboy in the world. I never trust anybody whose views and opinions freeze around the age of 18 and remain the same thereafter – probably the main reason why I was never convinced by Jeremy Corbyn, who still emits the naive air of a gap-year Marxist (which perhaps explains his appeal to adolescent graduates). I have very little evidence of what I thought and believed at 18, though the fact the archive is so depleted reflects the fact I was the sole curator of it; nobody else was interested enough to keep records and there was no digital platform in existence at the time to preserve the documentation on my behalf. Thank God for that. The memory is enough – and I can keep that to myself.
Okay, so it’s not as if I was a card-carrying member of the National Front or in the Rick Astley Fan Club – my crimes were not so diabolical; but I remember thinking, saying and writing things down at 18 that I couldn’t disagree with more today. Yet, that’s okay; there’s nothing wrong with that – in fact, it’s perfectly natural and normal that I should now be of the opinion that I knew f***-all at 18, because I didn’t whilst simultaneously thinking I knew everything. That is the prerogative of the teenager, and I’m wise enough now to cut him some slack and not condemn him retrospectively. As far as the wider world is concerned, I was born at some point in the early 2010s and whoever I was before that is irrelevant to the person cyberspace knows as Victoria Lucas or Petunia Winegum or Johnny Monroe. It doesn’t matter. It has absolutely no bearing on who I am now unless I choose to pen a post like this, in which I am drawing on my pre-online life to make a point. And even then, none of you knew me before I appeared online, so I could be simply spinning a yarn and taking artistic licence with my own personal history; who’s to know, and what does it really matter? There is no contradictory proof either way, so I remain the curator, director and dictator of my own archive.
It doesn’t seem that long since Jared O’Mara, the Labour MP who’d ousted Nick Clegg at the 2017 General Election, was suspended from the Party when a series of decade-old comments he’d made online resurfaced. These juvenile opinions on everyone from Girls Aloud to gays to Danes and Spaniards were characteristic here-today/gone-tomorrow observations of the cyber-literate millennial unfortunate to have their typical teenage bullshit stored away for a rainy day without them realising it. The cockiness that comes with early adulthood is generally mirrored in the instant reaction to issues or personalities of the day, a reaction that tends to emanate from the gut rather than the head. The 21st century is especially cruel in that it never forgets and rarely takes into account that whatever gut reaction yer average 18-year-old might make at the time doesn’t necessarily mean that remains his or her reaction to the particular topic under discussion for all eternity. And in the unusual instances when it does, one can safely assume that the individual in question has none of that curiosity for life which is essential for growth, maturity and wisdom.
The pious contemporary practice of holding every adult responsible for whatever they said when they were still a work-in-progress adolescent has made the headlines again this past week in the case of England cricketer Ollie Robinson. The 27-year-old vice-captain of Sussex was just days into his international Test career when ‘offensive tweets’ dating from almost ten years ago were dredged-up and have now resulted in Robinson being dropped from the England team after a solitary cap. Robinson was unlucky to be selected for his country smack bang in the middle of British sport’s across-the-board ‘Wokeification’; this is a moment when England football manager Gareth Southgate fails to grasp precisely why genuine football fans are booing the misguided, middle-class governing body’s attempts to uphold the virtue-signalling gestures it could get away with in empty stadiums. Ollie Robinson is being held to account for allegedly ‘racist’ and ‘sexist’ online comments he made back in 2012 and 2013, and one has to wonder what possible relevance they might have to a man in his late 20s who one presumes has changed his perspective a little since he was 19.
Robinson made the customary public apology when the archaic tweets surfaced, and even the Sports Minister Oliver Dowden had accused the ECB of going ‘over the top’ in suspending Robinson for something he said so long ago. But perhaps the most telling example of where we are now came via the comments of the England captain Joe Root. ‘We all have to keep looking to educate ourselves,’ he said, ‘trying to be inclusive as we can, and keep making everyone feel comfortable to play the wonderful sport we have.’ ‘Educate ourselves’ – how fittingly Critical Race Theory; let’s start from the belief that everyone is racist and work our way back from that, eh? Were Ollie Robinson dim enough to stand by whatever he said as a teenager, he’d be deserving of a slap on the wrist; but he’d have to be pretty bloody dim if he did, and it doesn’t seem he is. Not that this matters, though. The assumption appears to be that everyone’s closet is crammed with skeletons, even if we’ve not opened its doors for a decade or more. The fact those skeletons are in there indicates we are all perpetual sinners – for if the evidence is online, it must be true.
© The Editor