It's like living with a vampire. He sleeps all day, and that's all right, and life is pretty much normal. But at night we lie in bed in terror that we shall hear him, which we do far, far too often, and nobody gets any sleep.
And that's all I'm going to say about that.
I've been writing Cant columns for almost five years now, and there are a couple of guidelines I apply to my subject material. I don't write about my work, and I don't write about myself in enough detail for a cursory read-through by a person who doesn't know me to quickly identify me.
I've written under my given name plenty in other places. I'm not ashamed of my opinions. But the Internet is Forever. Even if one yanks the original, things like the Wayback machine, Google caches, etc, ensure that everything from one's most pointless blathering to one's most shocking revelations will in all likelihood remain available to all comers, for all time.
Applying for a job? Assume that the second thing an employer is going to do is to Google your name. Going on a date? The same. Applying to join the Elks lodge?
You get the point.
I'm not sure when we realized that this was the case. I came to the Internet in the very early nineties, and had a web page by 1994, back in the days of the Mosaic browser. And that web page was laughably amateur, even given the tools available. I'm certainly not alone in that. Still, I was there, on the Web.
For a while it was cool. Search on my name and boom, there I was. On the Internet, at least, I was important. The more things I wrote, the more places they got web-published, the bigger my Altavista listing became.
It wasn't until the naughties that I realized all that stuff was written in indelible ink.
I'm not by nature a controversial person. I've never taken nude pictures or posted close-ups of my tats or written long, obscenity-laced diatribes... and posted them under my real name. The main impression that one might get of me based on web information linked to my real name is that I'm a tremendous geek, which is by and large accurate and nothing I'm ashamed of.
But it's a little creepy that people are even now being denied employment or preferment or membership based on information that the denier would never have known only ten years ago. Wrote a scathing letter denouncing gun control? Bragged about a drunken adventure? Reviewed pornography? On the Internet, everyone you've never met now knows. Including all the people who are or may be important to you.
I don't have a conclusion, other than that this new fact of modern life is profoundly disturbing. John Stuart Mill, for whom I have a particular respect, came around to his wife's point of view against the secret ballot; if men were forced to vote openly, they would be shamed by the community into voting honorably rather than in their narrow self interest. But if everything you ever wrote is going to be available to everyone, will you only write honorable things?
And is that, ultimately, good for the soul? Of all of us?
- Sun Ra
Columns by Sun Ra