In the past, personal information existed in dusty file cabinets, spread across multiple Midwestern states. People were ashamed to be file clerks, or if they weren’t ashamed, they at least had the decency to be drunk whenever possible. The notion of privacy—something which we eagerly gave up about a decade ago, but are only now starting to miss—was sacrosanct. You could actually talk about how something was ‘an invasion of privacy’ and people would not think you were aiming to shack up in the woods and pen a manifesto.
According to a New York Times article, internet behemoth Google performs enough searches in four hours to index the entire Library of Congress. Whenever I start to type a new search in my browser window, an index of my previous searches appears, letter by letter. As of yet, no maniacal smiley face clipboard has appeared to ask me if what I’m really searching for is how to write a letter, or bathe a kitten. But I know it’s coming. (To keep my browser history from getting too stale, occasionally I type in phrases such as, “Stop saving my search results you bastards.” I was rewarded with the following: “I’ve rubbed it all over my body for months now and no results.” Oh, yeah?)
Google, with its compendium of information on your internet searches, and Facebook, with its compendium of weird photographs taken from unflattering angles, and now even text messaging, with its compendium of embarrassing mistresses, records every banality, every misstep. Anything that benefits divorce lawyers is, in my mind, a bad idea. Will we use this incredible overshare to benefit humanity, or will it simply become a more time-efficient method of exposing weakness?
Nietzsche advocates that we become who we are. But in compiling so much irrefutable information, are we in fact stunting our collective personalities, in the sense that we are nailing down our elasticity? We develop our beliefs and personalities over time. With so much information readily available over the internet, the tedious restrictions of legality make something posted in an instant a part of the permanent record. It’s kind of like ripping the doors off dressing rooms and demanding that everyone try on those dubious but potentially workable pants in full view. We need privacy to develop the best parts of ourselves. Pictures of awkward Forever 21 skirt experiments do no one any good.
I’d be curious to know at what point one’s internet history becomes obsolete. Do the things you write when you’re 17 and ‘young’ no longer legally bind you when you’re 18? Perhaps we should provide a midlife crisis exemption, a ‘Get Out of What You Said Free’ card. Or, much as Facebook offers increasing levels of privacy settings, perhaps as Google users we should be allowed to classify our searches in similar terms: I only want my friends to know I’m searching for the meaning of my existence, and not some squinty-eyed pamphleteer in Enlightenment, Ohio.