38 Years 1 Month 7 Days 18 Hours 22 Minutes 23 Seconds Ago

How long do you think a footprint in the dust can last?

Before you answer, let’s think about what “dust” is. The dictionary defines dust as “any finely powdered substance”. A finely powdered substance could not possibly stand any sort of test-of-time, could it? Even the slightest movement of air would alter the arrangement of the dust and therefore the footprint. A person casually strolling past could have a catastrophic impact upon a footprint in the dust. Dust, in all known earthly reality, has little ability to hold its form…no real ability to last any length of time with its original footprint configuration.

So, in light of these observations based upon Webster’s definition of dust, let me ask the question again… How long do you think a footprint in the dust can last?

How about 38 years, 1 month, 7 days, 18 hours, 22 minutes and 23 seconds from the time I started writing this blog post? …And counting…

Seems impossible you say…

Highly unlikely at the very least, right?


For this is exactly how long the footprint of Captain Eugene “Gene” Cernan has been left undisturbed on the surface of the moon. Captain Cernan, having been the Commander of Apollo 17 which was the last NASA mission to the moon, had the privilege and distinction of being the last man to leave his footprint on the surface of the moon some 38 years ago…and it’s still there today, undisturbed due to no earth-like atmospheric interference and no other visitors!

As I began to ponder recent conversations around the use of social media outlets by younger and younger students and predictions for the future of technology, Captain Cernan’s story actually came to mind. The connection?? A point to which our students should give a considerable amount of thought as they venture forth digitally…the concept of “digital footprints”…more importantly the longevity of those footprints.

When I was in middle school, or junior high as it was referred to back in the day here in Texas, it was not unusual for me to carry a camera around the halls of the school or say to Six Flags as groups of us went frequently. However, my camera had film in it, a foreign concept to middle schoolers today. With my camera, it could literally be weeks after I took a picture that I would actually “have” the picture.

When I had the pictures, I might take them back to school and show my friends who might be there that day…and we’d likely have a laugh or two. But then, the pictures would go in a photo album and the album on a shelf…or worse, the whole stack of pictures would go in a drawer, never to be seen again…much less shared with those friends who might not have been at school that day or all the other friends I had made during the course of my life to that point in time.

Today, my 11-year-old son is producing YouTube videos on how to maneuver and be successful at a particular video game…he has subscribers to his “channel” and his videos have hundreds of hits, many from kids he doesn’t even know personally!!! His sphere of influence is no longer limited by geography or, and here’s the rub, constrained by the element of time.

More and more, our student’s lives are becoming defined by the words, both written and spoken, and images that make up their digital persona. And as “smart” devices become smaller and less expensive as they do almost on a daily basis, the easy access to those devices means the volume of digital content, or their digital footprints increases significantly. But these words and images no longer appear only on a shelf or in a drawer but, thanks to the Internet and social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, they appear for all to be seen, heard and/or read from virtually anywhere in the world and at any time in the world.

Case in point. Google my name and Dr. Pepper and you will see instantly that on April 12th I wrote a line about my fondness of Dr. Pepper on a website collecting information about drinkers of Dr. Pepper…that’s April 12th of the year 1996. That was 14 years, 9 months, 10 days, 8 hours, 44 minutes and 53 seconds ago and yet only two mouse clicks away from instant total recall. Never in my wildest imagination could I have predicted the fact that my one line of text would live on as it has.

Yes my posting was benign and pointless to probably everyone on the planet but me. But what if I had been angry at a friend or co-worker that day and had let my emotions get the best of me and posted something derogatory or hurtful? Clearly, I’ve had these kinds of moments and I have even said things about a friend to another friend, especially back in junior high. Thankfully in those cases, there was no Facebook wall for me to vent on so at most my words only made me look bad to the person I told. But if I had posted my comments, even though I may have instantly regretted it, the moment I pressed the enter key it would have been out there…out there for everyone to see…even almost 15 years later!!

I try to, and encourage others in the education industry to try to educate students on the longevity of their digital footprints. What they post today, be it a joke, jab or even a topical opinion will, in all likelihood, live on for years in digital form. And today, anyone interested in “getting to know” someone even prior to a true face-to-face meeting, will no doubt employ Google to assist in that effort. In-fact, someone with whom the student wishes to make a good first impression upon with a face-to-face meeting, such as a college entrance committee member or prospective employer, may already have a first impression based upon digital footprints.

The saying, “You only have one chance to make a first impression” has never been more true. The difference? The one chance may happen and you will not even know it.