I am part of the first generation. I was dial-up internet chatting with friends and strangers over ICQ and AIM in junior high. I have created an account on just about every major social networking site since the phenomenon’s inception. I’ve gambled on sites that have long since dissolved and disappeared. I’ve been a user on sites that are only popular in other countries. I have used my own name. I have used fake names. I have lurked, trolled, whored, geeked, gamed, and just about everything else one can do online. I have a long history of internet use—with almost two decades of it occurring before privacy ever became a notion or concern.
Prior to Trump, my generation—the first generation of social media users—could have never been elected into office. There’s too much dirt on us—sticky digital fingerprints all over the trash, photos, videos and every ignorant thing teenagers and twenty-something morons think, do, and say online. For the first time in human history, all the nonsense of growing up and discovering life—experiencing all of the good and bad in the world—has been digitally documented and preserved forever. Moreover, we didn’t know that prior to going in—neither did the adults—and we surely didn’t consent with an understanding of the consequences.
Think of dealing with a breakup for the first time with social media at your fingertips—before there were filters. The embarrassment of those teary-eyed woes-me-posts mixed with your first attempt at poetry. The jealousy—the ease and anonymity of digitally being keep tabs on an ex’s profile, agonizing over who the new person is that keeps popping up in their photos, and perhaps even knowing where they’ll be hanging out next.
Maybe you just met someone you like in real life and get a little crush—suddenly your internet searching ability rivals the NSA. Only later do we discover that this ability removes any of the excitement, suspense, and natural fluidity that comes with getting to know someone over time. Not too mention you're forced to lie to each other–mentioning any of this online informaiton only makes you look like a stalker.
Think of the first time you skipped school, lied to your boss about being sick, or coordinated an evening filled alcohol and drugs. There’s now a digital trail of communication linking it all, and someone in the group is always dumb enough to post something about it somewhere. Think of the parties, the parties, the parties—all the dumb ideas that creep into your head at 2 AM are now immortalized via your phone messages, search history, and social networking.
Consider that you have access to practically every person, photo, video, book, topic, and conversation in human existence–literally at your fingertips–and curiosity online can easily take you down a dark rabbit hole. I’m not concerned with what teenagers and adults find online or sheltering them from this experience—no. Search and stumble away. But I am deeply concerned with how the public will respond when it's discovered what you have spent your time looking at.
Pick your poison. We’re all guilty of some weird online shit—though all of these questionable actions were committed under the notion that your odd quirks and curious behaviors were purely your own. The flow of data you created and engaged with was exactly the same as the twisted thoughts that run through your head—privately yours and concealed to the world around you.
Stop for a moment—I encourage you to take a jaunt over to your terms and conditions with Apple and Facebook. They have it all. And everything you’ve done, your entire digital history, is waiting to be leaked 20 years from now when you make your first campaign speech.
It’s bleak… but President Trump has done one outstanding service for the future of America and politics moving forward—he’s rendered most of the internet trash meaningless. He is so bad, and the bar is now so low, that there’s nothing that the vast majority of us have said or done that could top an average week for him on Twitter. From scandals, divorces, bankruptcy, affairs with porn stars and payoffs, hooker pee pee tapes, pussy grabbing, and the confounding ignorant babble that he writes and speaks daily—the rest of us are in pretty good shape in comparison.
He’s great news because I know that a bunch of you idiots have grown into responsible adults and will most likely one day have jobs of importance. You’ll find yourselves in positions of power. Having your life, career, sabotaged because of your digital history—your social media posts decades earlier—is a ridiculous, and yet a very real prospect.
Rest assured that this exploitation will happen to us first generationers, and we need to approach this fate pragmatically. Barring someone from political or professional office because of moronic behavior committed early in one’s life would be a detriment to society.
For one, the pool of qualified candidates that pass a socially acceptable digital history screening would be extremely small and, in turn, it’d potentially be excluding the most experienced and passionate among us. These are not legal issues but rather questions of moral reputation, and the daily façade we present to the public doesn’t include erotic curiosities or the ISIS beheading videos that you watched the night before. It’s not even a question if you derived pleasure from these online encounters, it only matters that you’ve stumbled across them—that there is a digital trail connecting you to them.
Banning someone from office because they’ve experienced the dark side of the internet is the moral equivalent of banning someone because they’ve had sex before marriage. It happens—to a great deal of us—and to expect anything different is absurd.
Second, the small pool of socially acceptable candidates wouldn’t be representative of the masses. Either an extremely sheltered or abnormally pious individual would not understand or reflect the society they were trying to govern. History demonstrates that to effectively run a nation, some level on commonality between the people and leadership is needed. Geo-political concerns aside, that’s why occupation and colonialism is short-lived or has outright failed. Drastic differences between government and citizenry has never been successful. This concept also echoes the sentiment of minority voters—they feel misrepresented by leaders that don’t seem to share their common values and beliefs. The exact same could be said, but now spoken from the vast majority, if only digitally clean candidates qualify for office.
Third, and most important, punishing moral behavior from the past only gives people more reasons to lie about their history, and gives extortioners more opportunities to exploit them.
The problem that the current political cycle is uncovering, and what will be become a massive issue when the first generation starts taking office, is the illusion of privacy. As long as we still believe in privacy—that’s there’s a separation between our digital persona and our real-life existence—as long as we believe that secrets can and will be kept—extortion and blackmail will rule our political and professional sphere with a devastating iron fist.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, because I believe privacy is a prime right; perhaps more important than speech that follows it. You must first have privacy in order to conduct and gather your thoughts—to quietly learn from experiences—before having the freedom to publicly speak those thoughts makes any sense.
There is very little separation between our thoughts and our machines, and that gap is narrowing daily. Our devices and our online experiences have become an extension of ourselves, and reviewing someone’s online behavior is akin to reading their mind. Elon Musk, at this very moment, is developing broadband sufficient enough to merge mind and machine—yet no one has established any rules of how that is supposed to work, and we have no prior precedent to look to when the boundaries between the two were somewhat clear. There are no substantial modern laws governing digital privacy or limitations that coral the tech industry. As long as these institutions carry information that can publicly crush and humiliate an opponent’s life and career, rationally, true reform and oversight of them can never be established.
The problem is that our conception of the internet was never presented as a real life experience, with real life consequences. It was "virtual reality, man"—a video game. When you turned it off, it ends, along with everything you’ve said and done. We now know that's not the case and Dave Chappelle’s If The Internet Were A Real Place is exactly how we should have approached the way we use the internet.
Think of Google as if you were walking down Main Street. What would you ask an expert that was standing the middle of the street? You can still ask a lot of dumb shit, but perhaps the ISIS videos would no longer be appropriate. Facebook is like your front yard to the world—what sort of anti-Trump banners would you hang from your front porch? Would you decorate your lawn with little Pelosi gnomes and have signs in the ground showing everyone your thoughts on immagration? Twitter is like walking into a restaurant—how would you behave? What sort of acceptable things would you say and do in that public space?
The internet was never presented to us in this way. It was, and still is in many ways, the lawless Wild West. This is due to assumed anonymity—you thought you had the choice to reveal or conceal your identity—to wear a bandana when riding through town or not. However, the ol' West is changing–there’s a lot more settlements establishing community rules that you never voted on, and way more people in town causing problems. But be careful, there’s no sheriff to protect you or to preserve justice. There's no deputized posse to rustle up the outlaws—only angry mobs with pitchforks and memes that lynch your reputation should you post something that offends them.
Needless to say, we didn’t approach the internet like it was a public space where our words, actions, and musing were always on the record. Because of this, large institutions now control a massive segment of your life that you assumed to be private—and they, or malicious individuals that have access to them, can hold your digital past against you.
In essence, your freedom of speech is being held hostage by these individuals should you ever contradict or pose a threat to their interests. As we currently understand social norms and our established places in society, few would dare speak out against a leader or institution if it risked their digital past being exposed. In turn, the general public, board members, and legislators can be forced to vote certain ways, support certain things, and retort certain rhetoric if they fear their digital past being exposed.
As long as there is fear, shame, and embarrassment associated with your digital past—along with the serious life-altering consequences such as losing your job, house, and savings—while at the same time ostracizing your children, family, and associates—anyone can be controlled and exploited.
The problem is that privacy won’t matter or directly affect the majority of us, as the majority of us will never have any significant influence or power. However, without the support of the majority, change can never be enacted. We've heard the arguments, "who cares if they spy–don't do anything wrong and you've got nothing to worry about." Right, a good rule of thumb now that we know that they're spying, but we already established how that won't help the first generation.
Then there's the classic argument currently being pushed by the NSA, "no one monitors what the average person says or does online or in phone calls–we don't care–we only target terrorists." And that's true for the most part. At the moment, no one cares about any of the embarrassing things I've mentioned above if you're a normal citizen... At the moment.
However, the majority must understand the profound impact this exploitation will have on our supreme court judges, senators, members of congress, generals, political and social influences (i.e. celebrities, ministers, news organizations), and the CEO’s of large corporations. Very few need to be targeted or extorted for maxim impact, yet the information they use exists on all of us. Should you ever find yourself in a position of influence, you’ll be required to pay the toll of compliance.
The only liberation from this kind of control is exposing the secret. We must admit, accept, and perhaps apologize for our actions. We must own our past, but we must also be able to forgive. If everyone’s browser history was exposed, a new normalcy would take place—new parameters of what is acceptable and not acceptable would be established. In doing so, control would be returned to the individual. Without the secret, no longer will institutions be able coarse moral judgement and acceptability, and no longer will our leaders be subservient to these interests.
As of now, if a politician gets caught with a kinky porn history, they’re scorned—when the vast majority of this country is jerking it daily to all sorts of weird shit (research web pornography numbers, they’re astounding). The problem is that we publicly hold them to a higher standard than we privately hold ourselves, thus allowing the most explicit type of extortion to occur.
The playing field is not level between our digital lives and our real lives, nor is it level between who has access to this information and who doesn’t. In the current construct, politicians will do everything to protect their reputation and conceal their secrets to preserve votes, eventually making an ethical concession in exchange for whatever the extortionist demands.
We have a fake notion of privacy. We already lost our privacy a more than decade ago when we bought our first smartphone and signed up for our first social media account—and our privacy will be used just like any other tool is used; as long as it is effective. To destroy privacy’s effectiveness, like all other social constructs, you must remove the belief in it.
If we no long believe in privacy: “the state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people; the state of being free from public attention.” By definition and our common understanding of the notion—our digital history is no longer private if it exists between you and your phone manufacturer, your computer manufacturer, your internet service provider, your software developers and distributors, your messaging services and apps, your social media profiles, all of your online accounts, all of the websites you visit—not to mention all of the individual employees that work at these places and have potential access to your information. Moreover, and ultimately, the Federal Government and its Patriot Act has the authority to monitor everything and anything you do at any time.
The notion—the belief that you have privacy—is absurd. It’s gone. So let it go.
My fear is that this will take a martyr, and in some ways President Trump has been that person. A political figure that refuses to be coerced—that owns their humiliation and blindly marches forward through it. They are exposed for some undesirable thing in their past, and we—as a collective—see that behavior in ourselves. We know what sort of dirt would be unearthed if it were us in that position, we have the foresight to know that ultimately none of the concocted drama ever really matters, and we allow them to move forward without the extortionist getting in their way.
Sadly, I don’t see many of our politicians demonstrating this level of bravery, or Trump’s fortitude of audacious arrogance. I also don’t see a level of focus and maturity in our countryman that would allow ourselves to only be concerned with the issues. It would take all of the politicians—and all of us—to directly confront our privacy laws and digital history for change to be successful.
So, obviously, no one is going to get along and actually make a decision that enacts positive change in this country. Then what methods are left to free us from perpetual extortion? Our biggest salvation would be what the government calls “cyber terrorism”. Someone, perhaps Neo, hacks into the Matrix and exposes all of our browser histories—our entire digital past—and all of the information becomes publicly available in an instant. Not in an effort to topple regimes, or to collapse banking systems, or to disrupt social services—but to create a level playing field and to liberate the world from selective secrecy. In one swoop, remove the incentive for anyone to do anything but the right thing. However, this isn't likely as it is a problem of logistics–as mentioned above, the information is widespread and our privacy is controlled by many different people in many different places.
We are no longer in control of our Invisible Internet Ring of Gyges. Our economic system and industrial complex has transitioned to intellectual property–and without a digital consitution–this is the beginning of intellectual servitude. There's no longer a practical division between your physical and digital life, the consequences are real in each, and we must decide how we want to handle this fusion before it is decided for us.