Dealing with a digital legacy


A digital legacy is a strange thing. My generation, the group of people who were born in the 80’s and 90’s, the ones who grew up while the internet was growing up, will be the first generation who will seriously have to deal with the idea of a “Digital Legacy”. Sure, we weren’t the first ones on the internet, but we are the first kids on the internet. And kids on the internet do stupid things.

Picture this: The year is 2004. My 12 year old self sits down with my parent as we fire up the family computer, and dial in to a Juno ISP server. It’s my birthday, which in my family means I can finally get an e-mail address. This is _big_ news. We had discussed the different email providers at length prior to sitting down at the computer. We had a Juno email account, but that wasn’t really that great, as you had to use their proprietary email client which hadn’t been updated for Windows XP yet, so it didn’t work quite right on the family PC. However, my dad had started using Yahoo, and it just made sense to get the same. I sat down, and was faced with the most important task that I could ever be faced with: Picking my email address. I tried my initials, but that was too short. I tried something longer, like CNWacker, which was taken. Being 12, my creativity stopped there in terms of emails using my name, and I jumped right into the next best thing: stupid nicknames from school. So I typed in “pizzaboy” and it was taken. So was Pizzaboy2. Pizzaboy192 however, was available, so we proceeded to sign me up, and my first ever email address was pizzaboy192@yahoo.com. The joy was shortlived, however, because Yahoo’s sign-in page broke while I was creating my account. I never got to use that email for anything. I gave up waiting, went to Hotmail, did the same process, and thus Pizzaboy192 was born.

That was almost 10 years ago. Ten years of me making the bad decision to use the same username on everything I could ever think of. Back when I was 12, I thought I was awesome with that username. I started claiming it everywhere. Turns out that someone already had that username on Runescape, and AOL Instant Messenger, but I haven’t found any other sites so far where I haven’t been able to use it.

A lot happens in ten years, too. I went from a stupid 7th grade student, to a high school student, to a consumer of higher education, and am now roughly a month away from graduation and a job as a teacher. And I still use pizzaboy192. But why?

At first, the decision was a simple one. If my email was pizzaboy192, why shouldn’t my username on a forum or another website be the same? Between getting that email address and signing up for MySpace, only two and a half years had passed. Social networking wasn’t something for a workplace, it was for recreation. My employer wouldn’t ever need to see my MySpace Profile, so why should I care what I name it. Then Facebook came up, and I signed up with my same email address. Each time a new social media site, forum, or website asked for a username, I freely and foolishly tossed in pizzaboy192, and hit enter. 9th grade me wasn’t very smart. Or 10th grade me, or 11th, or 12th. In 2009 I signed up for twitter, and in went the username. Facebook added custom profile URLs, and in went the username. I really hate to admit to it, but I had no shame hiding behind that username, right up until I started doing semi-professional development.

But by then, it was too late. I had built up a web presence. My Facebook profile had my friends, it was all set up. I didn’t want to ditch it. My Twitter profile had somewhere around 4,000 tweets. I didn’t want to start over. I had accounts on all the major websites, I was still using my Hotmail email address regularly (I still do) and I had become invested. My digital footprint was turning into a legacy. Heck, if you peck that username into your favorite search engine, the first result is my website, pizzaboy192.com, followed by the downloads page which made my username somewhat useful, my twitter account, my Reddit account, etc. What happened?

I made a simple software patch, posted it to a few websites dedicated to said software, and then used my email and social accounts as a simple way for tech support. By the time I had realized how stupid I was for investing in a single username, it was too late. Heck, the Google Analytics shows that the top 10 referrals are nearly all based from that patch.See, All but 1 are patch based. It was too late to abandon ship. I used my username, and now it used me.

I still will stick with it. It has become my digital legacy. I have a domain, I have a blog, I use the username everywhere, because I can. What I once felt some shame in, sharing it with a whole group of teachers, I now embrace. I use it as a teaching opportunity, telling students that I have in my classroom that what they do online will follow them forever. (Heck, I have emails going back to 2007 in my Outlook profile, and I know there are older ones hiding somewhere). It may have started out as a stupid nickname from eating too much pizza at a grade school dance, but it has become something strangely useful. I’m scared what the next 10 years of my digital legacy will hold, but I can predict a few things:

Wedding pictures, pictures of my kids, pictures of my classroom, probably lots of pictures. Some more blog posts here, there, and everywhere. As social networks pop up, I’ll still use the pizzaboy192 username, because why not. I have a professional email address or four, I have a professional twitter account (With TWO tweets! Yay!) and I’m slowly trying to be a little more professional in how I act, but I can’t hide from the fact that my username is everywhere, so I might as well embrace it.

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About Author
Someone who feels the need to help others using the information that I have discovered. If someone else finds it useful, I'm more than happy to have helped.

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