The Ins & Outs
Ah, a fresh start. The bad part about this going in that I did not have to think about before (and which lack I shall attempt to recapture) is “audience awareness.” I am now THX rather than CB radio. I can feel the hard slats of the soapbox under the soles of my bare feet as I stand here orating into the bright lights. In September of 1995, no such realization tickled my feet. It is disconcerting, that knowledge. It may be what one hopes for when one starts rambling incoherently in public, but one never expects attention.
And so I give you this exercise in self-promotion for the benefit of nothing at all. I am selling nothing except my point of view. I don’t ask anyone to agree or disagree. I’m not trying to be influential, or display my intimate knowledge of anything, or build an audience by telling you just what you want to hear. I’m not sanitizing my ‘fucks’, I’m not apologizing (any more than I did before) and I’m not exposing my private parts if I can help it. This was never a diary. I never want to detail the passing moments of my life here. I am merely The Observer become The Observed.
So what I want to talk about is the growing threat of attention. How easy it used to be to hide, and how difficult it is to maintain two lives when you’re showing one to the Real World and showing the other to the Virtual one. And how what you say will be held against you, and how what others say may not.
So there’s this one guy who got fired from his job for being an idiot. What he did was write some dreadfully juvenile, somewhat scatological, mostly worthless fiction and put it on his Web pages. What he then did was go about trying to instruct others at his place of work about said Web by giving them his URL so’s they could all see how easy it is to construct a site and maybe, I guess, use it as a model for what Personal Web Pages are. Then what happened is that some of the women whom he worked with did not find the material he posted there at all entertaining, and a little disturbing. Well, not just a little—so disturbing that they issued an ultimatum to the bosses: “He goes, or we go.”
Now he’s a media darling telling his story to anyone who’ll listen as an example of, um, something or other. Stupidity, I think. I could have that wrong. This is a true story.
Next, there’s this sailor, okay? He happens to be gay, which in the United States military should be kept strictly secret because it is, of course, something to be not only ashamed of but actually worthy of being overtly denied. The military, apparently, doesn’t exactly think that sort of behavior should be condoned—which is probably a safe bet what with gay bashing still a prevalent sport in many parts of our enlightened culture. They adopted a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” position meaning “I’ll promise not to ask you to lie if you promise not to tell me lies when I ask you.” Now, isn’t that a good idea?
Unfortunately, the sailor had an account with AOL where he was not only telling, but volunteering the information the military deemed Top Secret. He set some email to another sailor’s wife, she forwarded it to the Navy, they called up AOL and said “hey, who’s this guy? What’s his name?” And they told, because the inherent understanding of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is that no one will ask. And apparently AOL doesn’t give a shit about your privacy as a subscriber since they’ve been wanting to sell your personal information to the highest bidder for a while now, anyway.
Now they want the sailor out because, after all, he’s gay which, we can all agree, is a crime. Lawsuits are flying, questions regarding privacy, blah blah blah. This is a true story.
Silence Is Olden
My last tale concerns another gentleman who runs a personal site. Seems he started getting some really nasty email from someone who was not happy with what he was saying, or doing, or who he was, or something. The guy in question, rather intelligently, decided not to respond. But the other guy, whose anger apparently fed on his small-minded opinions being ignored, sent more and more mail, getting increasingly nasty until, finally, our protagonist published all the email on the front page of his site as illustration of, perhaps, how much he had grown to dislike the flamemailer.
He also added a few opinions of his own. On his site. Which he pays for. About the other guy.
Guess what happens. Does the first guy get even madder and continue his previous behavior, still sending out the diatribes, still calling him names, still making accusations and veiled threats? No, he writes the other guy’s ISP and threatens to sue for defamation of character. The ISP tucks tail and shuts down the guy’s site until he takes down that page. This, too, is a true story.
Welcome to life online, where everyone is watching.
What is free speech? What is privacy? How does what you do on your own time reflect on what you do for your job? Who is responsible for what you publish on the space you pay for? Should the fact that you elect to truthfully disclose certain aspects of your life in one arena mean that nothing is private in any arena? Should people who self-publish personal pages “expect” to lose individual rights just as celebrities should “expect” to have their lives exposed to public scrutiny, as some argue?
What A Tangled Web…
The first case makes me think that the guy probably meant nothing by the stories he published. I say “probably” because others have pointed out that if he is, indeed, ‘disturbed’ that he would have gotten off on the fact that the women read his stories. I tend to think he didn’t. Think, that is. Probably didn’t think about what was there. I know I forget half the things I wrote about or said, but I also never refer anyone I know to my site. I prefer to have people stumble onto it, like a big uncomfortable rock. So, while he might have had darker intentions, I tend to think he was just, well, dumb. And not a very good writer, to boot.
The saddest part about the second story is not that AOL is volunteering subscriber information to whomever wants it. Come on, people, who’s still surprised that your name and address is being passed around like a bowl of chips during the Super Bowl? It’s the attitude that being gay is wrong and punishable. That what a person is rather than who a person is, is what matters most. And that the culture at large accepts this, whether it takes the form of homophobia, racism, sexism or other ism, with a shrug and the focus is on the fact that someone told. There would be no need to hide behind an avatar or screen name if there was nothing to hide from. The bed-wetting liberal speaks.
Lastly, did the guy have the right to publish those emails? Did he have the right to label the writer an asshole or fuckoid or whatever term he may have used? Did he have the right to use his Web pages as a platform to retaliate against someone who was antagonistic toward him for no good reason?
Yes. He did. Because just as I, who am nobody, have paid for this space on this server and am not representing anyone else’s opinions or company or organization but ME, so can he or anyone else do the same. I am paying for my right to make an asshole of myself. I am aware of what I am doing. I am responsible for my words. So are you. Within this forum if someone sends me email or publishes a page about what a complete jerk-off I am because of my opinions, that is their opinion. This whole Age of Litigation is out of control. Suing someone because they called you on something following weeks of antagonistic messages is asinine. This is my opinion: It makes you a coward and an asshole. I am also a coward because I never mentioned you by name or the site owner you’d been harassing—but I know you’d threaten to sue me, too, because you’re an asshole and I know my ISP would be just as spineless as that other one.
I told myself I wouldn’t issue such protracted meanderings this time around. But, you know, juices flowing and all that.
Going forward, I’ll add that mostly everything else remains true about Life Serial as was true about The Experience. No schedule, no theme, no reason. Just me typing. Going on and on ad nauseum about whatever the hell I want to go on and on about. Listen, don’t listen, have a bagel. Whatever. I’m easy.
In a manner of speaking.
February 1, 1998