An amazing little post appeared on The New Yorker culture pages a couple of days ago, Andrea Denhoed’s “A Fake Facebook Wedding.” She kicks off with a description of an ingenious if enraging prank before going on to ponder what our browser histories have to say about us–not always the most comfortable of subjects. Browser histories, after all, may be the most potent gateway to the human need for substitution/slate-cleaning/absolution that modern life offers, ht KW:
When we talk about the “dark side” of the Internet, we’re usually talking about criminal deception, or sometimes about porn, but what about the time we spend refreshing our inboxes like lab mice hoping for a pellet, or the vast unacknowledged expanses where we let our brains go stupid and set them free to graze on things like “The Ultimate Girls Fail Compilation 2012,” which currently has more than sixty-six million views on YouTube, but none of the buzz and analysis that follows “legitimate” viral videos? The Internet is perhaps the closest thing we’ll ever have to the ring of Gyges—the invisibility charm that allows its wearer to be alone while having access to the outside world—which Plato posited as the truest test of how a person will act when freed from accountability or restraint. We might not be doing anything evil, but we’re not doing anything we want the world to see.
Events like the Te’o hoax, the “Catfish” scam, and Tim’s wedding suggest psychosis. But consider how crazy anyone would look if our online lives were laid bare. In one tab we craft a perfectly pithy tweet, and in the next tab, we Google our exes. The Internet is both a stage for manicured social performances and a repository for our raw insecurities, blemishes, and ignorance. Nothing reveals more than a search history, that manic mental ticker tape where our intellectual pursuits and our cosmopolitan interests accompany such things as the words that we don’t know how to spell, the sexual terms we don’t understand, and the diseases we think we might have.
Stories about fake girlfriends and staged weddings may be the result of punctures in the already thin membrane that separates the real world from the lives that we lead online…
Mark Zuckerberg, for all of his supposed ham-handed obliviousness to the way people think and feel, is attuned to the gap we straddle between performance and secrecy. His vision of a radically transparent society built on open information sharing (on Facebook) is based on the idea that we should all just acknowledge and embrace all the disparate ways we act online, effectively eliminating the distinction between private action and performance. The way to avoid doing anything you’re ashamed of, the argument goes, is not to be ashamed of anything you do. But achieving radical transparency would require more than an overhaul of our online habits; it would require an overhaul of the human character.