It’s not very often that one sees one’s life posted on one of the larger news/technology aggregates/communities/linkdumps on the web. But there I sat the other day, idly browsing the web the other day, when up came a chat window from Future US co-star Andy Salisbury. Andy, as it turns out, had stumbled across a rather interesting picture in Reddit’s submission queue and was curious to know if I had any further details to share.
I clicked the link without really thinking much about what could lie beneath. And you can thus imagine my surprise in discovering that I was basically staring at the back of my car. Yes, my car. Somebody had taken a picture of my (extremely clever and/or witty) license plate and uploaded it for the world to see. The votes on Reddit were slowly a-climbing and, based on a quick scan of the third-party that was actually hosting the image in question, roughly 10,000 people or so had already checked out my car’s butt.
Now, to preface all of this, I’m normally the kind of person who doesn’t really care about what’s on the Internet in regards to my life. I write for a number of magazines and Web sites; I’m a fairly active member in a few tech/geek communities, I have a Facebook, I dump all of my pictures to Flickr, et cetera. The list goes on.
I also tend to take a bit of offense whenever people sign up for these sprawling web services and try to hide what they’re up to behind some nightmare puzzle of digital locks, privacy settings, and the lot. Isn’t half the point of jumping into an online social network… to be social? If you don’t want people to know that you like cats, visited Petsmart yesterday, and are saving money to become the newest subscriber to Cat Fancy, then why bother putting it out into the digital world in the first place? Why not just get a journal?
Of course, I say this as a complete and total hypocrite. Yes, I lock off parts of my Facebook to certain groups. Yes, I share much of my life across the Internet… but to counter that, I use pseudonyms in a semi-useless attempt to keep my life under wraps from those casually interested. I mean, I’m pretty sure that a reasonable person with a reasonable amount of time could find my cat’s name in no short order. But it’s not as if typing “David Murphy” into Google is suddenly going to give you the address to my super-secret nude modeling page or something.
I was nevertheless a little bit perturbed at first to see my license plate just thrown across the Internet like that. My first thoughts went to the obvious question—what can one really decipher from a license plate? While I quickly ruled out the idea that angry Maximum PC commenters could now find my address and shank me in my sleep/Civilization 5 game, the thought did briefly cross the mind.
Second up—I was now double-curious to know the whens and wheres of how someone managed to snag a quick picture of my car and toss it up on Reddit. As it turns out, a trip to the local mall the day prior to the picture’s uploading was the culprit on this one. Go figure, people in the bay area like geeky things and/or Reddit. It’s just a shame that the EXIF data for said picture was stripped as part of the uploading process; part of me had some strange desire to learn a little bit more about the life and/or camera habits of my geeky follower. It’s only fair, right?
But I soon suffered the grand realization that I was more interested in getting said picture upvoted to Reddit’s front page than I was about the privacy implications thereof. And this all goes back to my original point—why put yourself in a particular place only to complain about it later? In this case, I have a vanity license plate. Anyone on the road—let alone, the Earth--can see it. If I didn’t want the attention, I wouldn’t have plunked down the yearly registration fees to get said plate.
Is it a little weird to have a specific detail of one’s life thrown on the Internet for all to see. Yes, but the feelings pass rather quickly. We live in a digital age where anyone, and everything, is a potential subject for amusement, mockery, or linkbaiting. And no matter how much you try to lock your life down online or otherwise, you’re as fair game for the Web as any other. Don't fight it; run with it.
Especially if your license plate is dedicated to this guy.