5 Guilty Pleasures The Web Killed While You Weren't Looking
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.
Hiding Your Stupid Past
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.
We don't care how outgoing, kind, friendly and open-minded you are, there are certain people you just do not want at your party. Of course, being outgoing, kind, friendly and open-minded, you don't want to hurt this person's feelings. For all of human history, the universal solution to this was to simply not tell them about it. Everybody has a good time and the crazy guy isn't there to start crying and pooping in the cat's litter box, as he does at every other gathering. Everybody wins.
Especially Colonel Fluffers.
Of course these days, nobody can resist organizing their parties on Facebook, where you can just create an "event," a page which allows you to send out virtual invitations to the people you want to come by simply selecting their names on a screen. You no longer have to go through the trouble of calling people or spreading the word or even writing out paper invites.
But then, this happens:
Oh, crap. The dude with the crazy eyes and the neckbeard whose friend request you accepted out of pity, or who is friends with someone you're friends with, now knows about your event and is planning on showing up. And without outing your total dislike of him or calling the cops, there's not much you can do about it.
But surely there's a way around this! Presumably after being inundated with angry messages from socially conscious 18-year-old girls, Facebook introduced specific privacy controls for events, which limit who can see information relating to them. So, for your next party you make use of these options, which hide the event and all related discussions from the view of anyone you haven't specifically invited. Bullet dodged! That is, until this happens:
Yep, somebody posts pics. And he can see them. It's a truly connected world now, and no matter how careful you are in your social exclusion, anyone even slightly related to your social circle is going to know what you've been up to.
Worst of all, this applies even if you avoid social networking sites altogether and invite people the old fashioned way. As long as a single one of your friends decides to Twitter about your exclusive gathering, or sneak away and use your house as background for her usual round of kissy-face photos, the game is up.
Well into the 90s, the rules for academic plagiarism were clearly established. You waited until the night before your King Lear essay was due, frantically searched the local library for condensed notes, copied them out in your own handwriting, and handed the essay in. Your 70-year-old English teacher, delighted at your precocious vocabulary and insight into pre-Roman political intrigue, gave you an A. Or, more likely, your overworked public school teacher barely glanced at the paper and rubber stamped it.
And, for a little while, it seemed like the Internet was going to make it easier. Essay-writing sites known as "paper mills" sprang up, supposedly providing students with "research help" when in reality they could supply you with a finished essay on the topic of your choosing. The world was at your fingertips, and your teachers were too old and confused to know what this newfangled "Internet" even was.
"The Dewey Decimal System is all I need."
But it was a false hope, and now the teachers have caught up.
Even a single Google search of a stolen phrase out of your essay will take them right to the Wikipedia page you copied and pasted it from. But these days, many colleges have taken it to the next level and use software that not only detects word-for-word copying, but even identifies the deftest trick in the plagiarizer's book: The old "switch around a few words so it's not exactly the same" gambit. So even if you laboriously go through your stolen essay on feudalism in the 10th century and change "peasant women" to "wenches" so that it won't come up on a Google search, you'll still get nailed.
You can't get away with the old "copy out of an obscure book in the library" technique, either. The most popular plagiarism-detection programs like Turnitin will compare your essay both to your fellow students' and to the 20 billion+ sites that the company has crawled the Web for, and flag anything from similar sentence structure to suspiciously parallel synonyms.
"You plagiarized from Wikipedia, Zanfried. That's punishable by death."
So it's not only going to check to see if your wording turns up in the millions of titles on Google Books, but also the essays of other students who have also used those books and tried the same trick. Honestly, how many years until the technology has advanced to the point that everybody who graduates college actually winds up with some kind of education?
Do have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up for our writers workshop! Know way too much about a random topic? Create a topic page and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!
If you miss the "good ole days," find out how close we are to returning to it, in 5 Reasons The Internet Could Die At Any Moment. And find out what our planet would like if that happens, in The World of Tomorrow (If The Internet Disappeared Today).
We can thank the Internet for highly publicized pranks. Check out this DMV prank from our friends over at HuffPo.
And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 05.19.10) to see where ebaumsworld steals all it's content from.