Sunday, July 13, 2014

The online disappearance of Tim Boucher

I miss how the web used to be weird and unusual and it made you think.

A paradigm example is the online disappearance of the Canadian blogger, Tim Boucher.


Here is the last thing he wrote in 2012 before he disappeared off the Internet:



On the End of the Web

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Published by timboucher
ON THE END OF THE INTERNET

by Tim Boucher, Montreal; 3 Jan...
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The list goes on and on... web usernames, online accounts, logins, fictional entities, collective thought patterns, synchronistic word patterns. How many countless others could you name for yourself, your circle of friends? The internet has been all things to me since I became aware in my own home - with a free dial-up connection from the local library in high-school (circa 1997) - of just what it could mean; what it could allow me to be, to do, to find and define and to express in seemingly limitless form.

I can happily say it brought me some of my now closest friends - as if plucked out of the ether(net) - and listened silently to, lifting on invisible electrical wings my whispered fears, dreams and prayers.

Nearly every job and home I've ever held or occupied during my adult life came about as a direct result of the internet: a Craigslist search, a series of emails, an electronic resume.

Take its influence and inspiration as a technology away, and I'm at a complete loss as to what shape my life as an adult would have taken. Freelance web design, development, graphics, programming, technical training, semi-professional blogging, SEO and everything else that went along with it: these subjects consumed my waking hours for years. Until I found theatre.

Theatre, performance, the wider field of the fine arts, perhaps the closest "real world" analogue one might find today in terms of fluidity, malleability of identity, creative expression - the best parts of the internet. Who was I as a teenager sitting up late at night chatting over AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), ICQ - all the rest? 

What did it all mean?

As far as I can tell, it's all just tracks in the snow. Animals that passed through here once, their paths crossing ours in the woods, but who are long gone.

How important is it, really, to record and preserve for all eternity (as Facebook's "delete doesn't mean delete" policy or Gmail's "save it forever and ever" policies dictate) all those tracks, all those animals who passed in the snow?

Once upon a time, we only took casts of footprints of rare or unusual animals: Bigfoot. Creatures whose identity or existence we officially doubted, but wondered about anyway.

But now we collectively have the capacity to remember and try to rationalize - or at least track, analyze and categorize - all the animals in the digital forest.

When the low to mid-range Acer laptops I purchased every 2-3 years from Best Buy began carrying web cams built in above the screen, I began taping over the camera eye with black electrical tape.

There was a while I even covered over brand names on my computer and all electronics as a sort of experiment in controlling the focus and eliminating meaningless or unnecessary diversions of my awareness.

I don't know why I did these things, I just did.

Call it an emotional reaction to a consumer product.

We form emotional bonds and associations with what we buy, what we use. It's completely normal and natural. We are emotional associative beings. We have our ups and downs, our sometimes failed oft twisted logic disguised as linear rationality and “science”.

But something dark, secret, mysterious, hidden drives us from deep down inside.

Something we can't capture with cameras, GPS, keystroke loggers, algorithmic data analysis, deep mining.

The Eye can't see itself.

I download movies.

But I only watch them once and then I delete them. I swear. Is that immoral? Illegal? Am I putting someone out of job? Am I making world economies crash? Am I sitting on my ass? Letting my imagination and desire be driven by overblown images agendized by a corrupt consumerist culture?

Be happy that I want still what you want me to want.

Glory in the limits of my lifestyle marketing options. All stores carry the same products. We carefully lock our doors from one another so that no one will steal what we have. What we've rightfully earned - not from the 'sweat of our brows' as our forefathers maybe once did as farmers or tradesmen, but from the "sweat of our browsing" - hours spent at work idly surfing away, dodging co-worker emails, wasting time, reading about movies, fiddling with our NetFlix queue, searching for something to purchase on Amazon. Something that might set us apart from our earning-category peers, but not too much that they'll think we're weirdos, freaks, perverts.

We want our wants to be wanted.

We look to each other for mutual cues about the shape of our desires to come. Our desires to come. Where our tracks will lead next in the snow-field, the secret forest paths. The Google Maps.

The customers who bought this also bought the earnings projections, weather predictions. The creation of predictable behavior patterns. Traps set up along the paths. Return on investment. Google Analytics. It's all a good game, if you like games. Angry Birds. Learn the proper strategies to get what you want, to accomplish arbitrary goals set before you by the game designers until, until either you win or you wake up and realize you just spent the last twenty years of your life caressing a machine, hovering over data sets that are supposed to define you or something, to show you've always strived for the right products, used the right services when they were still "hot." You're not a member of Al Qaida after all. You've got nothing to hide.

You don't mind if they track your usage statistics anonymously if it means they can catch the bad guys, if it means they can give you better products at a better price for your just-barely-getting by life-style.

The Eye can't see you crying. Can't feel your emotions. Can only catalogue retroactively your biometric behaviors.

Everyone is watching. Every little thing is being watched, weighed, measured, analyzed, but no understanding is reached.

I canceled my Facebook account. I know it still exists, the data, the photos, the links. But I canceled it...Along with Twitter...PayPal...Bank of America...America...Nation-states...Some distant person who says they know what I am, what category I fit under. Who wants to have the last word.

Who cares? Why are we living like this?

When I ask a squirrel outside in the park what country he's living in, he drops a nut on my head and scurries farther up the tree.

Last night I did a Google search on "internet alternatives" and "alternatives to the internet." It's not that nothing came up. But that nothing "can" come up.

The Eye not only can't see itself, but it can't see what's "not" itself. And as the saying goes, "if thine eye be evil (or thy corporate slogan: don't be evil), then thy body will be full of darkness."

But this is not to say that there's some great evil out there, some vast conspiracy to do us in. There is only, after all, human nature - with its vast array of permutations and variations, decisions, choices, identities, faces and possibilities.

A snow angel is the totality of that body's possible range of motion, arms and legs inscribing arcs outward from the trunk. So too does all of humanity form its own kind of 'snow angel': our differences, curiosities, web cam performances, product preferences and search engine histories. Is that angel a thing of beauty? A hideous beast with ten thousand wings and flaming heads pointing in every direction?

Or can beauty somehow include within its purview the great spectrum of profanities - all possible and all actual acts - of human atrocity? An unmanned drone can spot and bomb a "terrorist assembly," half the world away, but can it see the suffering it causes? And should it ever want to? Or should we ever want to make it so?

Imagine a world with merciful weapons, where bullets refused to kill, knives could be programmed not to cut - aware that pulsing through those veins it could have emptied is a burning tower, an enormous inferno - composed of that same mystery it recognizes at the core of its own existence. Bombs that do homage. Planes that praise. Tanks which have become inwardly illumined...All for the glory of this manifest world. The wonder of why we should be here at all in the first place. The Beauty.

The reason for being in the first place of that all-shining Eye, watching everything relentlessly: aesthetically drunk-sick on the majesty of our mad imaginings. I must be dreaming that it's all actually come to this, that it's all finally happening.

The Angel coming down from the iCloud with a scroll in its hand that reads: "BigSavings For Subscribers”.


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