The interweb is a funny place. There are a lot of people who use it everyday and have no clue as to how it works. There are people (myself included) who know exactly how it works, but also know that someone else knows more. Then there are the scary people who REALLY know how it works, how to get around it without being seen, and how to get whatever they want from it (they are usually tagged by the FBI . . . not kidding).
The problem with so many people being on the web and not knowing what is going on behind the scenes is that they leave rather large wakes in their path; all the crappy poems they wrote when they were mad at their ex, all the embarrassing photos you didn’t think would get out, that one video (yeah, that one). It’s all on there forever! And it’s traceable.
I’ve been on the web now since about 2000. I was using it before then, sure, but I wasn’t on it. Are you on it? Try typing your name within quotation marks into Google and hit search. What do you get? If you use my full name, I’m the first eight pages. If you use my nickname, I’m the first 10. It’s been that way for years.
That can be a scary thought, if you aren’t careful. With very little effort you can have my location, my email address, and my thoughts on most anything I’ve ever written about (and it’s been a lot). If you know how to search Google’s cache, you can see my forum posts for now defunct websites from seven years ago!
I’m not particularly worried, however, since I’ve always made it a point to be at least somewhat cordial to the online community. If you wouldn’t say it to your neighbor, you shouldn’t say it online.
This is where that first group I mentioned has really messed things up, I feel. Senator Stevens may have been horribly wrong in his explanation of the internet, however he did have one analogy right; you can’t just dump stuff on it. All those whiny rants about your parents/teachers/friends/ex’s that just don’t understand you, those pictures you’re so “embarrassed” about, the video you thought your boyfriend wouldn’t share; they are all up there forever. And just because you don’t think people know who you are, doesn’t mean you can just go off and dump whatever happens to be on your mind!! It’s not like the internet has any hidden corners you can just tuck away into!
Like Picasa? So do I. They are owned by Google, which means every picture you’ve ever uploaded to them has been indexed and cached for the world to see. How about Blogger? Same story. It’s not that I’m ragging on Google either; I use it for everything! I use it for my email, for my online documents, even for managing the back end of this very site! Using Google’s powerful tools, I can see every single person that comes and views the site, what page they were looking at beforehand, where they went afterwards, what ISP they used, their browser, their operating system, their city, their connection speed, and if they are a returning or a new visitor. It doesn’t matter if you are browsing through an anonymous proxy, it doesn’t matter if you’ve made your IP private, or your site private; if you’ve linked, clicked, or browsed through Stolen Droids, I know!
I don’t want to sound like I’m Big Brother, and you shouldn’t enjoy the web (or repeatedly visit our site and tell all your friends!). But like all things you do in public (and yes, the web IS public), you should practice restraint and civility. You can’t just assume that you can say whatever you want, and no one will know! The guys at Penny Arcade put it perfectly in a classic strip.
Just as an example on how interlinked the web is; I’ve now linked to Penny Arcade enough times that one of the authors tracked me down and I’m now his friend on Facebook. Imagine if I had been ranting about it and calling them horrible things instead! He’d probably have found me faster!
If I had to leave people with this post in the most concise way I can think of, let’s try this: Imagine that tomorrow the human race is wiped from the face of the Earth. Another civilization comes along and is able to recover the data centers that form the internet. What kind of person would they think YOU were?