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Back in the Seventies, all the cool kids knew that when adults warned you that some infraction would go on your Permanent Record, they were mostly blowing smoke. Think of the bureaucratic effort that would be involved in photocopying and mailing records around the country. Once you’re out of here, dude, you’re free. The past will never catch up with you.
Today’s youth, however, live in a very different technological and thus psychological world.
I was talking to a friend whose college-age daughter was applying for summer internships. A large fraction were with firms that had been bought up by a Famous Giant Conglomerate that dominates the industry her college education had been directed toward.
She had done an internship for one of the FGC’s subsidiaries a few semesters ago. Now, though, when she applied online for a position at any of its other dozens of subsidiaries, she instantly received back computer-generated emails each telling her in the same exact language that she was “not eligible for rehire.”
As a test, she applied for more positions at more FGC subsidiaries and always got back the same “not eligible for rehire” message. She concluded that she had been blacklisted for life from the dominant player in the field toward which her college education was geared, probably because during Finals Week she had fallen asleep at her desk while she was supposed to be mailing out promotional trinkets to prizewinners and her boss’s boss had been angry at her over it.
That one exhausted slip-up had gone on her Permanent Record and it would follow her around for the rest of her life like the Ancient Mariner’s albatross.
Well, it eventually turned out that she had been blacklisted for life simply due to a bureaucratic error, and her name was quickly taken off the FGC’s global “not eligible for rehire” list.
But, the Philip K. Dick-style lesson remains: even though the FGC didn’t mean to blacklist her globally for life for one slip-up, it could have. It has the technological capability to do so.
This Permanent Record bogeyman is a lot more real for kids these days than for my generation of Jeff Spicolis.