Wednesday, January 19, 2011

what's hidden

this is from the essay "I can find out so much about you" by ada calhoun who did internet background research on people, usually recently dead, for a tabloid (presumably the nypost).

"Sometimes, I found useful things hiding in plain sight: the wedding photo of the Times Square Bomber on his brother-in-law's abandoned MySpace page, for example, or the name and number of the anonymous guy whose fistfight during the U.S. Open went viral on YouTube...Plenty of what I found was noise, but sometimes there was something that provided a useful lead -- say, a killer's high school baseball team picture, with captions that led to a good interview. Any original trace of information, I learned, could be a place to start tracking down someone's bitter ex-girlfriend, or paranoid, self-published novel.

"Particularly in the case of Internet-addicted 20-somethings, I often wound up with way too much information. Sifting through some young people's mountains of blog posts and photos taken with their iPhones has taken me a full workday of nonstop reading. At the end of those days, I almost felt like I knew them.

"But the Web tells only a limited story, and its common wisdom is often painfully, stubbornly wrong. I've conducted enough celebrity interviews to know that even the most detailed, oft-visited Wikipedia pages have major errors. Still, I don't know that a profile gleaned from online information would be any less accurate than one created by talking to your neighbors. We hide parts of ourselves from both, or try to...

"The supposed overexposure of young people, the 'sexting' and the bong photos and all the rest that suggest we are too dumb to realize that human resources people can Google, too, may not be so stupid after all. Maybe it's a modern-day defense mechanism, a fortress of voluntary exposure. The more stuff we put out there, the less of what other people put out there about us dominates our online identity...[W]hat happens on the Internet (lunatics post crazy rants) and what happens in the real world (lunatics murder people) are very, very different. The Internet is a shadow of the real world, not the real world itself.

"Maybe that's the moral for those of us who have Facebook pages and other online profiles: to put any stock in our online identities is wrong. The creations we, or others, build up around our user names and profile pictures are shadows -- sometimes a close approximation of the truth, sometimes deeply distorted by ourselves or others, sometimes so appealing to us we prefer them to the messy realities of our flesh-and-blood selves. But they are not real.

"What is real: our bodies, our families, our friends, our co-workers, the thoughts and feelings we have that never see a computer screen. What we do in the world is real...In October, I was put on a story that was almost the mirror image of [Tyler] Clementi's. In researching a wild person, I found a quiet one online. The porn star Capri Anderson, found cowering in Charlie Sheen's Plaza hotel room, has the online profile you'd expect: making out with other girls on Twitter, covering herself with whipped cream on her club site, leering on MySpace.

"But then I found public photos posted online years ago by a relative, and there she was in photo after photo, untagged, smiling and without makeup. She was at a relative's wedding, mugging with her father. She was at a restaurant, smiling on her sister's shoulder. Maybe those photos aren't any more 'her' than the vixen ones. But to me, they felt more real. Maybe it's because she'd tried to keep them secret."

(it might be relevent to note that, while I had no trouble coming up with dozens of photos of capri anderson in her 'vixen' poses and of her giving interviews, I could not locate a single one of the "more real...secret" ones calhoun describes. maybe what's meant to be hidden can stay hidden.)

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