Some people would say that in order for a person to be truly responsible, they have got to think beyond the here and now. While a lot of people would agree with this from a rational perspective, their actions (especially on the Internet) do not necessarily gel with rational understanding. There are three main issues that determine a person’s level of responsibility online: their level of concern for how people perceive them in the physical world, how their future might be impacted by what they do (and post) online, and how they spend their time online. All of these factors need to be addressed by every person on the Internet, because the Internet is an unprecedented digital time capsule of everything ever done on and through it, including the information of the perpetrators.

How do your contemporaries perceive you through what you do online? If you are like a lot of professional people, you have got to all but cower in the shadows and keep most of what you say hidden behind screen names and muddled information. As a wise person once said, “We’ve got freedom of speech, but watch what you say.” If your boss finds out that you get drunk (oh, the scandal) or have a personal life, you could actually be fired for it. While freedom of speech protects your life, it does nothing to secure your employment. What you do online right now can hurt you within days.

As well, your future can be impacted by what you do online. Consider that at some point, you might want to make a positive first impression on someone else. While your keg stand prowess might be legendary, it most likely won’t impress the recruiter. Or your fiancee’s parents. But while those are fairly obvious, how do you think your children will perceive what you did when you were younger?  After all, it’s a well known fact that everything which is posted online, no matter where, is archived in a disorganized, quasi-untraceable number of different places. In twenty years, your ten-year-old might find those pictures…and that rant. Heaven help you in trying to inspire any of the values you’ll try to instill into them when your Mardi Gras pics pop up on their screen.

One of the biggest pieces of responsibility a person has to deal with online is the immense number of distractions which are present in the digital world. At any moment, you can watch videos, play games, and read all sorts of useless things. But you only have so much time in your day, and you know that you have more important things to do. While messing around on your own time probably won’t get you fired or make your kids lose respect for you, the sheer volume of potential time-wasters is at a level we’ve never had to deal with before.

When you go online, you have got to be responsible. You have to deal with the past, the present and the future all of the time. Is it enough to make you want to abandon technology yet?