Behold, All My Dirty Secrets
Is your home computer a treasure trove of scandalous, wicked material? Great. So is mine
- By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
I confess. There is, right this minute, quite a lot of very hot pornography on the PowerBook computer upon which I am typing this column. I know, shocking.
There are very naughty MPEG movie clips and still shots, DVD rips and a rather debauched link history buried somewhere in my Safari Web browser amidst the New York Times and the politics and the music and the blogs, links that would almost certainly reveal certain predilections and fantasies and fetishes and preferred, um, angles of view.
The websites you visit, your chat conversations, and all of your Internet and other PC files ... could get you into a heap of trouble.
(From a piece of alarmist e-mail spam currently circulating on the Net, hawking disk-erasing software called Evidence Nuker)
I also have a towering pile of downloaded MP3 files, songs that somehow magically made their way into my iTunes library as if by divine Internet intervention because as God and Lars Ulrich know, I certainly would never download such material illegally, but much of it would nevertheless make the RIAA scream and pule and wish it were 1992, a.k.a. the salad days of gleefully ripping off consumers for $16 CDs that cost 89 cents to produce.
Don't lose your job, get divorced, become embarrassed, or be sent to prison because of what you do on your home or office computer!
There are e-mails. Thousands upon thousands of them, my entire archive of correspondence from all my years of writing for SF Gate and The Chronicle. (I save nearly everything because, well, why not? It's easy, e-mail takes a tiny fraction of storage space, some of my old hate mail is truly classic and you never know what might be interesting years hence.)
There are long Instant Messenger transcripts of very angry e-arguments intermixed with very lovely exchanges and hot IM sex with girlfriends and friends both past and present. Because that's just the kind of sentimentalist I am. Also, one word: memoirs.
Are you aware that your computer is also a recording device? Almost every action you make is recorded and can be easily retrieved by anyone, not just by a computer geek but by an average computer user such as your spouse, boss, or anyone who has access to the PC you use.
There are thousands of personal photos, many quite beautiful or funny or family oriented, along with a whole bunch that are quite lascivious and far too explicit (and also very poorly lit -- why oh why can't I shoot home smut as well as the amazing Siege over at Nerve.com?) to describe in a family newspaper, though let's just say this is why God invented the digital camera and someone should send her a gift basket and some money.
There are personal letters and old columns, idea fragments that never saw the light, semifamous bits that almost got me fired, swear words and anti-Bush fantasia screeds, along with stacks of e-receipts for all manner of gizmo and book and device, from the sacred to the profane, DVDs and sex toys and vibrating doohickeys and insertable Pyrex glass plugs and probably some old receipt for my used copy of the "Anarchist Cookbook."
Your computer is as private as a diary left on a restaurant table for anyone to read. Thousands of people have been fired, divorced and even sent to prison over what was found on their PC!
Apparently, much of this could get me in deep, deep trouble. The PC is, many believe, the ultimate revealer of your demented and sacrilegious inner life, a ripe treasure trove for Homeland Security and your wife and your boss to probe and snoop and serve search warrants. You sure you don't want to protect yourself? Take appropriate steps? This is what I hear. This is the newfound cultural fear.
It is a rather confounding, daunting and yet ultimately silly prospect. Yes, it is indeed true that some draconian employers are indeed tracking every e-mail/Web site/phone call their employees enjoy. And well do I know the stories of employees getting disciplined or fired for, say, downloading porn at work or passing along raunchy e-mail jokes to exactly the wrong uptight co-worker, or being the anti-gay Republican mayor of a small city by day and then cruising gay chat rooms on city PCs by night. Whoops.
But the bottom line is, I am but one of millions and millions of U.S. citizens, from senator to lawyer, priest to college student, right-wing nutball to liberal protester, who has gobs of such revealing material on his PC. Hell, show me a well-used computer not packed to the RAM with any sort of deviant habit or revealing penchant, and I'll show you, well, the Pope. And even he has a cute little Prada fetish.
Do you want your loved ones, employers, or law enforcement agencies to know everything you do online?
It is simply a choice. It is a shift of the lens. Potential prison aside (and I've nothing excessively illegal or openly revolting here -- and no, I don't use office computers for most of these activities. I mean, please), I have nothing on this here Mac to be horribly embarrassed or concerned about -- except for maybe how I sort of like that new Christina Aguilera song. I don't know how the hell that happened.
I choose freedom from paranoia and embarrassment. I choose to be entirely comfortable with my fetishes. There is nothing on my PowerBook that is not entirely human. Besides, if someone with the right tools and data-recovery know-how and a nasty personal agenda were to unerase all the data from my hard drive after I sell it and see every scrap and every photo and every scandalous thought buried on this machine, would they really know me? Touch the heart of what I'm all about? Not even close.
Look. We are a nation taught to be ashamed of our fantasies and our deviances from the norm, taught that porn is a dirty word and experimenting with ideas of gender and love and Self is morally reprehensible and probably deserving of medication and electroshock therapy. And our technology often serves as a channel and repository of our "shameful" notions. This is why PCs have supposedly become so dangerous. And so fascinating a cultural artifact.
But through it all, there seems to exist this one general rule: If you have that much to hide, if you are living some sort of secret and embarrassing and family-endangering double life, if you are constantly burying images and hiding data or altering your persona to the point of endangering your work, if you cannot let someone, say, cruise through your personal sex-toy box without massive blushing and fainting and humiliation, perhaps you're living the wrong kind of life. You think?