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Watch what you say, your “permanent” records can bite you from behind

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By BEN OLSON/for The Herald

To whom it may concern;

Beginning in the 3rd grade, I was told by some of my teachers and principals that certain acts of my (mis)behavior would end up in my “permanent record”.  I am curious to know if my permanent record exists, and, if so, could I obtain a copy of it. I would be more than happy to reimburse the Wisconsin Dells School District for the cost of the copy.

In full disclosure, I am writing a newspaper article on the subject. Perhaps the permanent record threats were just the next step beyond “Santa is watching you, and he knows if…” Please indulge my whims.

 Thank you for your time.

Young and gullible, we believed our teachers’ threats

Ben Olson, Class of ‘71

A spokesperson from the school notified me that after 50 years, permanent records are destroyed, and that my records, along with some of my classmates provided the fuel for a massive bonfire at the homecoming pep rally last year.

No, there was no permanent record kept by the school. If your behavior was bad enough, it would end up on your “rap sheet”, which is real, and is permanent, and is kept by the local P.D. In an effort to keep kids in line in days long gone, threats were made. We never envisioned that in our future, we would voluntarily fill our own permanent record with volumes of content, some damning, some not so much.

Then came the computer age

With the advent of personal computers and the internet, every email, tweet and blog that you put out there is still available for the public eye, as long as someone, for whatever reason, didn’t delete your post. A drunken 2 a.m. rant on Facebook has come back to haunt political candidates many years after it was posted. An email chain about office politics with your best friend gets forwarded to the boss shortly after the two of you have a falling out. Ever rave on your blog about what an upstanding guy your favorite comedian was, who later was accused by multiple women of date rape? How about saying some former Chanceller of Germany, despite all the problems he caused, really had some good ideas? I think you get my drift.

It would take an EMP to wipe your records

You can see that it’s a slippery slope, putting your thoughts out there on the internet for all the world to see. It never goes away, and sometimes you can be plagued by the behavior of someone else who has a name just like yours. Even if you refrain from putting your opinions on the net, others are busy collecting your personal information and offering it for sale to anyone who wants to know more about you. That information can include every place you’ve ever lived, every time you’ve been dragged into court (even if all charges are dismissed) and every spouse you’ve had, even though there may be one or two that you would like to forget. 

Bad information on your credit report? Good luck getting that changed. Someone throws you under the bus on a Facebook forum? Well, you just have to grow some thicker skin, because arguing with your detractor will only  provide fodder to amuse other followers. You can’t win, and, sometimes in your efforts to clear your name, you only encourage others to pile on.

Just like in the olden days, your permanent record was caused by choices that you made, as well as things you really had no control over. Today you could limit what shows up on your permanent record by only sending out messages that you wouldn’t mind the whole world seeing.

Ben Olson, musician and Oakridge Resident, with his standup bass. Ben is a regular contributor, as well as the Entertainment Report’s columnist. Ben Olson photo

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