I’ve imagined a creepy horror film (maybe just a short), where you get called in for the Last Supper of your life, sent up to a hotel room, allowed to make one or two last postings, then denied access, then had your whole online existence removed. Then the fantasy or catch or your life knocks on your door and gives you one last “peak experience” as you pass into the Afterlife, if it exists, with your karma cleaned up. Maybe this could be a low budget movie.
Yet maybe a little more than ten years ago, “online reputation” became a trendy topic, even leading a company by that name to be founded.
Before that, I had to deal already had to deal with “what I had done”. When I couldn’t sell enough hard copy books, I became an online pundit. I got a reputation that way (as an “older Milo”, and probably more socially acceptable, especially to Donald Trump) but my Pharisee-speech didn’t pay its own way. In the most extreme circumstances, it might get me or other people connected to me killed.
Earlier, I had entertained the idea that people in positions of authority over others (with direct reports) should not express their opinions in unsupervised manner because that could show prejudice or hostile workplace. This was my own implementation of the idea of “conflict of interest”. Again, obviously Donald Trump doesn’t respect it now (and I have only one degree of separation from Donald Trump, despite never paying the fees to go to Mar-a-Lago – maybe I can get invited).
Nevertheless, in the past, I’ve had to entertain the idea that a lot of my own Internet presence would have to be removed if I took certain kinds of jobs, as I outlined here.
But is it feasible anymore for someone to go completely dark? Not very. I’d say fifteen years ago it was feasible. You could take everything down, and ask Google to remove all references to your flat files online (before blogs and social media components became SOP).
The old idea of a double life (especially for LGBTQ) seems to be gone forever. Really, I sometimes miss the way it was in the 1970s and 1980s, even until about 1996 or so. You had your home and your possessions, and you developed a reputation. Arranging gatherings and social events meant more then. In the gay community in DC, you went on adventures with Adventuring or Chrysalis. (You still can, but my life has changed so much since the 90s that I really don’t have time). My parents developed a presence with real world property and things – my father was very dedicated to his own workshop, filled with tools, which was much more common for people in the 1950s than now. As I get older, I find myself mentally revisiting those years.
Here is Abby Ohlheiser’s take in the Washington Post on what it would take to go completely dark, like a white dwarf star that has completely burned out into a dark cinder. Part of the strategy is to imitate Kellyanne and create “alternative facts” online first. Some social media will let you change your birth date a few times. I could imagine a pro-life change to your conception date.
I’ve noticed that there are a number of companies that offer a public records history and background investigation on anyone, for a membership fee. Of course, if the subject belonged to the same service, he or she would know you had ordered it. I really like my fantasies of Maslow peak experience and have no reason to spy on anyone and ruin the faith.
Update: March 23, 2017
Check out Ross Douthat’s column in the New York Times March 12, “Resist the Internet“. Douthat doesn’t want kids under 16 to use social media at all, or to have cell phones too early. He also mentions a no-tech private school in Silicon Valley, Walforf, that many tech executives send their kids to. The school has students learning to knit socks, and participating in many group rhetorical exercises with the teacher, who is quite engaged.