We're guessing not a single person reading this would be willing to take a time machine and go back and live in the pre-Internet era. Some of us start showing signs of physical withdrawal within 10 minutes of losing our iPhone.
Yet... there are things we miss about the world before the World Wide Web. Guilty pleasures that a less connected world used to let us get away with.
The odds are none of you have ever, say, robbed a liquor store or assassinated a public figure. But we've all broken the law, if only to sneak a beer before the statute said we were old enough, or to paint a dong on an abandoned bridge. Minor stuff. All part of growing up, right? And it's not like you're going to get caught...
Ah, but now you're living in the future, where the cops can use the miracle of social networking to nail you for crimes you didn't think anyone really gave a shit about.
Let's say you've gone off to college and, though you're still two years under age, you attend a party and have 27 beers. Your socializing has paid off--the next day you get a friend request from a cute girl on Facebook. You accept it and a few days later, you get summoned to court and fined for underage drinking.
It turns out the cute girl was actually a cop. In Wisconsin the police are using the fake profiles to get access to kids' photo albums. Once in, they find pictures of them or their friends holding beers. Charges filed. Case closed.
Or, say you're out on the town one day and your drunken best friend goes to urinate in an alley, because maybe he has a phobia of public restrooms. A policeman asks you about it later, at which point you swear you have never met the pissing man in your life.
The cops then go into your Facebook profile, find the pissing man on your friends list, and charge you with obstruction of justice.
Others have failed to get away with youthful shenanigans when pictures were posted of them charging onto a field after a football game. Then you have the students who have faced suspension or expulsion for making derogatory comments online about campus security online. It's become so common that in 2006, students at George Washington University decided to turn the tables. They deliberately bragged about an upcoming party on Facebook, waited for police to storm the place, and then revealed that they were all actually eating cake out of beer cups.
Parents everywhere have been telling children the same lie for thousands of years: "You sure wouldn't have caught me (acting/dressing/talking) like that when I was your age!"
Grownups have been shaming teenagers over their ridiculous fads and bad decisions since time began, on the basis that when they were teenagers, they were dignified, respectful and mature. They weren't, of course, but where was the proof?
"I never stole drugs from family. Strippers, sure, but never family."
Back in the old days, people only brought cameras to vacations and holidays. Old photo albums were therefore stuffed with wholesome, posed pictures with the family at Thanksgiving, or smiling shots of everybody at the fishing hole with Grandpa. No fireplace mantles are adorned with pics of Grandma puking in the parking lot at a Beatles concert. No, any embarrassing photos were hidden away harmlessly in shoe boxes, or if their owners were smart enough, taken out back and surreptitiously burned.
That era is over.
Everyone has a camera, at all times, and every damned photo must be shared with the world via the Internet. Our generation is the first in human history to broadcast to the world every stupid thing we've ever done in our teenage years, via Facebook, YouTube and every other website in the world with an "Upload" button.
Sure, the photos you, your friends or your parents post on Livejournal or the local parenting forum aren't all that embarrassing or shameful now. Just as Eminem didn't think this photo was ridiculous at the moment he had it taken.
The partying, the alcohol poisoning, the boob-flashing, the Ugg boots and jeggings, it's all part of the public record. Forever. In 10 or 20 years' time, when these kids are in their 30s and 40s, married and starting careers as lawyers or police officers or guidance counselors, we will still have pictures like this floating freely around the internet:
Of course, that's just the pics. That rant against corporate greed you made on the Nine Inch Nails forums in 1998? It's still around, waiting to be Googled by your prospective employer. Your short-lived career as a blogger and passionate advocate of heroin legalization and lowering the age of consent to 16? That's still floating around as well, ready to be stumbled upon by the Mormon congregation you just converted into. It's all up there, archived forever, for your children and grandchildren to read.
Your wild night of no-strings-attached passion hadn't turned out quite as you expected. As the sun begins to rise outside the window, you quietly roll out of the inflatable kiddie pool full of jelly, pushing aside a few road flares and a slightly singed bunny suit. Rubbing your aching wrists, you quickly write down a fake number next to the telephone, and leave the strange apartment as silently as you can. It will take years of therapy to fully recover, but at least your one-night stand with the clearly imbalanced 20-something you met at a Waffle House, is behind you.
"Huh. Guess your phone wasn't waterproof after all."
Getting out of ill-planned one-night stands used to be just that simple. You faked your number, didn't reveal your last name or just relied on the fact that the two of you would probably never bump into each other again.
These days, thanks to the miracle that is the Internet, the information he or she has about you is more than enough to Google-stalk you. Does your workplace have a staff page with you on it? Got a LinkedIn account? If you had even one conversation over the course of the evening, odds are your drunken fling has all the information they need to find you.
For instance, people have been tracked down and stalked by ex-lovers after revealing no more than a first name and what they did for a living--the kind of thing a lot of us accidentally divulge to the chatty homeless person at the bus stop.
Crazy exes can use this stalking technique as well: A woman in the UK was threatened after changing her relationship status on Bebo from "single" to "in a relationship". Another woman was killed by a jealous ex after posting pictures of herself on Facebook with another man.
Yep, we're three entries in, and already we've found two separate ways Don Draper would have been absolutely screwed in the Internet era.