Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Managing online indulgence
Michigan CTO Dan Lohrmann on anonymity, integrity, and corporate culture
By Dan Lohrmann
August 29, 2011 — CSO —
I recently read an intriguing Harvard Business Review blog post, The Three Ps of Online Indulgence, by Alexandra Samuel. This guidance begins with the topic of well-known adults displaying split personalities online. While their public activities follow socially accepted norms, their darker "shadow selves" behave very differently. Samuel's witty analysis artfully exposes the online hypocrisy of certain family-values politicians and the now-famous tweets of Congressman Anthony Weiner.
But moving quickly beyond the list of celebrities behaving badly, Samuel accurately unmasks the relentless disease that inflicts all who regularly enter cyberspace—namely the temptation toward online duplicity. This challenge is the 21st-century manifestation of the internal battle dating back to the beginning of time. Each of us must answer the age-old question: Who am I, really?
[Also see Lohrmann's 7 reasons security pros fail (and what to do about it)]
Always-connected adults are especially vulnerable to the smorgasbord of temptations offered on the Net. Samuel writes: "Social media enthusiasts need to be extra cautious about online vices: We're more likely to indulge (because we're online more), more likely to get caught (because we're widely watched) and more likely to disappoint others when we do (because they've seen us as the online standard-setters)."
I agree. There seems to be a never-ending supply of stories about educated adults, people who should know better, or even leaders in society getting into serious trouble because of their virtual-world behavior. The real-world results are showing up all around us: broken relationships, shattered careers, and even jail time.
What's to be done? Samuel says, "You can manage the personal and professional risks of online indulgence by remembering the 3 Ps: Principled, Private and Planned."
This is where I part ways with the blogger. I wonder: Can we really control online vices in this way? The overall effect of her words is to compartmentalize each of us into two (or more) distinct identities using online privacy. This approach may work for a time, but surely it leads to eventual disaster. In a sense, this guidance treats online privacy as the potion that allowed Dr. Jekyll to change into Mr. Hyde.
In Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jekyll wants to separate his good side from his dark impulses and develops a potion that transforms him into another version of himself, one with no conscience, who is known as Mr. Hyde. But although there is no good in Hyde, there is still evil in Jekyll. At first the doctor enjoys becoming Hyde, with all his freedom from moral and societal restrictions. But Hyde becomes increasingly violent, horrifying Jekyll, who is further dismayed to discover that he is transforming into Hyde in his sleep, even without taking the potion.