This article on Streetsblog, a progressive pro-bicycle and transit website, is fascinating. The lengthy piece, worth reading in its entirety, explains how Streetsblog staff uncovered the identity of a hyperactive negative commenter with his own website, Commuter Outrage. Evidently the man behind Commuter Outrage, a twenty-something conservative who works in a civilian job at the Pentagon, was digging up material for his screeds during work hours using his employer’s (and the government’s) resources, and Streetsblog’s questions about these practices quickly led the secretive fellow to disappear the entire Commuter Outrage website.
Instructive were the easy-to-understand steps taken by Streetsblog staff to uncover the man’s identity, along with evidence that suggested he was blogging on his employer’s time. Also interesting was the fact that the attacks by Commuter Outrage and its putative staff (really just this one fellow, apparently) were not some right-wing conspiracy, but just some really energetic (if error-prone) work by one angry little man. It’s amazing how much one angry, energetic little guy can do on the internet.
After the men gather, the plot picks up steam and their interactions increase, with Pritchard quietly portraying a shifting dance of male alliance and competition. Their picaresque sex tales start to cast a subtler light on their characters. The story of the Serbian fashion model ends poignantly. A tale of a threesome takes an unexpected turn, with the storyteller unable to perform, feeling both sentimental about an old girlfriend and ambivalent about the suddenly aggressive behavior of his current one. In short, the scorekeeping of these men becomes less about tallying up sexual conquests and more about assessing their own strengths and weaknesses — and the elusiveness of their desires.
Wow, thanks Lisa!
Just in case you wanted to have a standard system for bragging to the internets how often you bang, now there’s Bedpost, an online sex tracking tool.
The rest of this post writes itself.
According to this article, some employers not only are searching the internet for discouraging information on you, but a few companies have asked interviewees for their passwords to their social networking accounts.
What in holy Christ.
For many people, I think the choice would not be whether or not to give up this information. It would be whether or not to reply calmly, “Why do you want that?” or flipping the bird and walking out.
I accept that whatever I put on the internet has to be regarded as public knowledge. If I post it, it’s there for anyone to see. I might put a warning on it, or I might hide it behind an obscure or invisible link, but some search bot will find it and display it on search results. I accept that. Indeed, I’m more concerned about someone getting me mixed up with the other Mark Pritchards of the world than I am of someone finding something I did in the past. That’s because I’ve always lived an open life. I’m bisexual, I write porn, I go to church, I’ve done drugs in the past, I like singing, I used to be a high school teacher. All a matter of public record.
But my life at work is separate from all that. I hope people are adult enough to understand that. I’m not surprised that some fundamentalist Christian academy is not; that a Montana city behaves the same way is only a little less unsurprising. This is another reason I live in San Francisco.
But I mean: asking for your password?? People just have no shame.
Just as I predicted in How They Scored:
Twitter is in advanced talks with Microsoft and Google separately about striking data-mining deals, in which the companies would license a full feed from the microblogging service that could then be integrated into the results of their competing search engines.
Here’s a nice discussion of authentication, an information technology concept I mention in “How They Scored,” and its implications for online identity.
I really like the picture of the highway, which I took from a State of Texas government website. The whole first half of my book is a road novel so I thought it captured the feeling. The trip is not to Texas but to the mountains of Washington state, but I really like this picture.
Imagine the familiar movie scenario where a detective is desperate to track and find a suspect, or where a detective is hired by a suspicious spouse to trail their errant husband or wife. Or an alternate scenario from the Cold War, where the secret police manipulate ordinary citizens to inform on one another (cf. the film The Lives of Others, pictured at left). Or the horrible situation of a controlling husband who wants to know where his wife is at every minute of the day. In those situations, one person wants to track another; the person who is tracked would rather not be tracked and sometimes would do anything to avoid it.
Now consider yourself, or any ordinary bourgeois, and how much you are tracked on a daily (and sometimes minute-to-minute) basis. Credit card companies and credit reporting firms register every purchase you make with something other than cash. Airlines, grocery stores and other businesses with rewards programs know where you’ve traveled and what you’ve bought. The phone company knows, within a few hundred feet, where you made that cell phone call from, and if you have GPS enabled, they know within a few meters.
And so on. Any modern consumer knows all this, so there’s no need to go into it at length — though the Wired story Gone Forever: What does it take to really disappear? is somewhat of an eyeopener, in that it communicates the ease with which some modern-day gumshoes, such as private detectives working for bail bondsmen or insurance companies, can locate you through the databases compiled by airlines, Amazon, Visa and others.
You may or may not feel comfortable with all that tracking and archiving of data about you, but there’s not much you can do about it. After all, you “agreed” to it when you signed up for whatever credit card, rewards program, cell phone, etc. etc. you use. Just check your “End User License Agreement.”
If this makes you feel just a little bit creeped out, then I would ask you: Why do you have a Facebook page? Why are you on Twitter? Why do you post your name, address, preferences and picture online on any number of sites, from Amazon to Yelp? In my novel How They Scored, I put it this way: Why would you even need an East German-style secret police these days when people are putting so much effort into reporting on themselves, compiling their own dossiers? (We call them online “profiles.”)
There’s no need to be needlessly paranoid about this. No one (unless he or she is actively stalking you) has hired a private detective to compile a report on the details of your quotidian doings. But they could. Because your life’s an open book.
I’m aware of all this and I still tweet what I’m doing, what I just ate, where I am. I still blog about books I read or music I listened to (facts which, if they were in the records of the public library, would require a court order for anyone to access, but I give them away for free). I still have my picture online in a dozen places, along with the neighborhood I live in, and so on.
But I still rebel in small ways. For example, I don’t have a Safeway card, but I still take partial advantage of their program. How? I thought to myself, probably most people in the neighborhood of this store have Safeway cards. All I have to do is type in the local telephone exchange and four random numbers. For the Safeway on 29th and Mission, in my neighborhood of San Francisco, that’s 415-824-xxxx. And it almost always works. I get my TV dinners 4 for $10 and whoever actually owns the account gets some points toward the purchase of … whatever Safeway gives. That’s my big protest.
When I was asked to write a book of sex stories in which the narrators were all straight men, I faced a challenge: What was interesting about straight men?
For years I’d written erotica in which the whole point was to blur the boundaries of traditional sexual identities, to take people who thought they were all one way and show how they could, given the right situation, go the other way and enjoy it. I showed straight men blowing other men, gay men getting off on women watching them masturbate, and tops opening up to being topped by somebody else for the first time. In other words, people losing their inhibitions and having new fun — the basic currency of erotica.
But what could I do with a group of straight men sitting around talking with each other about sex? (Every time I write that sentence, I start out by saying “talking about sex with each other,” then have to reorder the clauses.) Men who really are straight, who won’t get all hot and bothered by the storytelling and get it on with each other. Getting it on with each other was not what the book was supposed to be about. It was supposed to be about these men getting it on with hot women.
I also faced the challenge of developing several straight male characters who could be distinct from one another for the length of a novel. Shit, I don’t even know that many straight people, outside my job. Most of my friends are gay; I’m bi. I dealt with this challenge by going to one of the original source tales showing a bunch of straight men sitting around with each other. No, not the Gospels. Not the Knights of the Round Table. The Seven Dwarves.
The Seven Dwarves (I’ll let you name them for yourself, ready? go!) provide the key to the book’s characters. Happy is Hap, the main character. Dopey is Denny, a drug addict. Sneezy is Seth, who has allergies and works in biotech. Get it?
Once that was taken care of, I still had to make it hot at book length without, again, having the Seven Dwarves get it on with each other. Of course I could have done that, but that wasn’t what my publisher asked for. I found myself dredging up details of practically every opposite-sex relationship I’d had over the years, and made up several I didn’t have. I reused a story I told in nonfiction form in Best Sex Writing 2006. I turned people I knew, and some I’d barely run into — such as the annoying salesman type who sat next to me at a sushi bar in Las Vegas in 2004 — into characters. And I did it all in six months.
So to return to the original question: What was interesting about straight men? The way they shove themselves cheerfully into situations without much thought. The way they think everything revolves around them. The fact they’ll do anything to get laid.
A survey rated companies on privacy, with Google “conspicuously absent” from the top 10. I love that the US Postal Service was included. Frankly, I do trust the post office more than, say, Google. A vast bureaucracy plus a unionized workforce equals nice slow responses to court orders.
This article in Scientific American says:
The problem with government conspiracies is that bureaucrats are incompetent and people can’t keep their mouths shut. Complex conspiracies are difficult to pull off, and so many people want their quarter hour of fame that even the Men in Black couldn’t squelch the squealers from spilling the beans. So there’s a good chance that the more elaborate a conspiracy theory is, and the more people that would need to be involved, the less likely it is true.
How They Scored is now on sale from the Lulu Print on Demand website. They produce a nice product, and it’s a book I’m proud of. Buy the book. It’s funny, sexy, and you’re probably in it.