Rainie and Wellman cite the stat "57 percent of American internet users had searched for material about themselves online" (p. 267), which suggests a slim majority of people spend at least some time Googling themselves. Monitoring online reputation has become increasingly important to people, especially as privacy decreases, data collection algorithms become more invasive and companies increase their savvy about Internet background checks and social media when it comes to hiring and maintaining employees.
However, all these reputation monitoring exercises are futile gestures. Rainie and Wellman very accurately point out "that the most successful networked individuals have networking literacy" (p. 274). Those who have gained a comprehensive understanding as to how data flows and is shared, compiled, bought and sold by corporations and governments alike across the network will know that privacy is virtually dead. The authors also state: "Information itself has become networked and more densely packed, making peoples experiences with it more immersive and participatory." (p. 256) People have uploaded their lives in minute detail to the Internet and its various social networks, information that has become a valuable commodity being traded among the digital giants.
Facebook already tailors ads to users based on conversation topics in private messages between people. Websites like Spokeo sell personal information on anyone, including social media accounts and activity past and present. Information in cyberspace can never truly be forgotten, as websites like the Wayback Machine prove every day while each and every bit of data is logged and made available to anyone with a mouse, a screen and an Internet connection.
Any information ever shared about a person is accessible to someone, and therefore potentially to everyone since the privacy and security of information has been shown to be bolstered by walls of paper rather than fire. Hackers publically dump personal details on people each day with ease and the last few years have shown even government documents and data are not safe.
Eventually, people will need to understand that if they don't want anyone to know about something, it shouldn't be on the network. For some people, it's too late, the evidence can never be entirely erased. As the public comes to this realization sometime in the future, it will have to accept that people are people. They drink, party, have sex and other fun things. They get in trouble and do things they regret. And increasingly, it all ends up online. Will the U.S. presidential candidates of the future have to answer for offensive tweets made during their youth? Or will society just accept that the Internet is a free and open exchange of expressions and ideas, a permanent record of everyone's wins and failures? Hopefully the latter, because we'll otherwise drive ourselves to paranoid insanity as a society trying to combat the very nature of the Internet itself while simultaneously embracing what else it gives us.