I’ve had a long-running conversation with a friend and reader of the Local about the lack of engagement we’ve had since the onset of summer. If you’re a faithful reader of the Local’s letters, you’ve definitely seen their volume  fall to remarkable lows. Letters, which once filled up three to four news pages, now rarely need to be jumped from page 4.

My friend has been really surprised by the sudden evaporation of reader sentiment, particularly on fairly controversial subjects, such as the Bowman

Properties proposal to transform the old Magarity site into a Fresh Market grocery store and upscale condos (though the trend there seems to be reversing).

When you’re out talking with Hillers, they’re never short of an opinion on nearly everything, but when it comes to sharing that opinion, be it in print or in an online comment, they’re nowhere to be found.

“What is in the water in 19118?” my friend asked a few weeks ago.

I said I’m not sure, but I do have a theory based on approximately 10 years of gathering and reporting news in Chestnut Hill. It’s based largely on anecdote and experience rather than hard polling data, but despite the lack of science, I think it rings true. Hillers, on average, have always felt they had “more to lose” by sticking their necks out by expressing an opinion.

And now, with the  mainstream adaptation of web publishing, Google Alerts (in which a company or institution is alerted every time its name is entered on an HTML page) and Facebook page checks by employers, peopleare particularly paranoid now that any words they share now may likely come back to haunt them.


The question if we accept that the theory is close to the truth is this: Should people be concerned?

On one hand, yes, people should be concerned. Their words and actions are likely not only to have a much further reach because of the Web, but they will also be recorded in perpetuity.

An online identity, however, can work two ways. Who you are online is no longer out of your control.

The average person now should not be focused so much on staying out of the press or from sharing opinions online according to a new book by “Internet optimist” Jeff Jarvis, author of “What Would Google Do.”

In his new book, “Public Parts,” Jarvis argues that the best defense is a good offense. You can now share and write in a way that can give you control of your online identity.

I think Jarvis’ point is spot on. The ability of the average person to share online has never been better. From social networks like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter to simple blogging platforms like Blogger, Tumblr and WordPress, your online identity is what you make of it.

If you assume everything you put online is public, it’s a pretty good place to start. With that in  mind, you can create a record of statements and positions online that you can stand behind, plain and simple.

So yes, there is reason to be concerned. But there is also ample reason to be even more open, especially when you consider the alternative. If you’re not in charge of your reputation or your online identity, somebody, or something else, will be.

Pete Mazzaccaro

On that note, last week, I linked my Google+ account to the Chestnut Hill Local’s home page. Follow me and I’ll follow you back.

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