Listen to this story
The president recently signed a bill that allows internet service providers to vacuum up personal information from computers, which is why I was up late last night deleting my browser history.
Yes. Thank you. I know that deleting my browser history will not stop my ISP from selling my precious data to the highest bidder. But I wanted to feel like I was in control. I am not in control. For instance: My identity is for sale, and there is nothing I can do about it.
This is nothing new.
Social media platforms already sell my likes, shares, and brilliant status updates. They sit on your chest at night and steal your breath, and the next day they hawk you tiny jars of your own life force.
It’s not just private businesses that care so much they want to read your love letters. The government cares, too.
Local police departments are debating whether to deploy surveillance drones. In some states, law enforcement is even considering arming these drones, which is a terrible, if inevitable, idea. I mean, RoboCop is not a documentary. If that’s not creepy enough, intelligence agencies are able to watch citizens through their televisions. The abyss, not Netflix, is supposed to stare back.
This is what it means to be alive right now. Welcome to our present dystopia. There is an eyeball in the sink drain looking up at you. A monster under the bed listening to you talk in your sleep. A telescopic photo lens slides out of a mailbox to snap a picture of you kissing your one and only.
But I’m not afraid of it. Not anymore. I accept it.
I have nothing to hide, because I am nothing. No, seriously. We are told that we are individuals. This is a fiction. I am nothing. You are nothing. We are all just a collection of grubby little wants and impulsive opinions and crippling fears that are of value only to whoever can make a buck selling our wants, opinions, and fears back to us.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure the Age of Enlightenment is to blame for everything. I’m not an expert, but I do, from time to time, glance at Wikipedia. I vaguely remember studying that Western historical period when science and reason reigned in high school, but I was too busy writing poems I would later burn. Because of the Enlightenment, humans turned away from religion and superstition to looking inward. The great minds of that time celebrated the individual, and thus we have a right to protect whatever it is we have rattling around in our noggins. Turns out, the Enlightenment is over. It may or may not have been marketing anyway.
But you have no right to privacy. You have some nice protections against searches and seizures, but those are, apparently, negotiable.
Having secrets was nice while it lasted.
I am going to confess something I’ve never told anyone. It is a secret. I loved someone, and they did not return that love.
It is a story that only I have experienced. This story is mine, and mine alone, and it is why I am me and you are not.
So here it goes:
The first time my heart was broken, I wrote a poem about the exquisite pain, and then burned that poem in the kitchen sink.
Yes, the poem was free verse. No capitalizations, either.
Yes, I loved her. She was in a grade above mine.
No, she did not know my feelings. I saw her making out with Eddie Matthews, and from there I concluded that she probably did not love me.
Yes, I watched the flames eat the paper with tears in my eyes as Aerosmith’s early ’90s power ballad “What It Takes” played on cassette tape.
It was a holy ritual, really. A private moment between me and my guts.
So, at the age of 15, I committed a secret to paper: I loved her, probably forever, and there were also parts in the poem about crying blood and, like, a raven flying into the moon, which, you have to understand, was symbolism. I could easily dispose of my deepest thoughts, scrawled on a sheet from a spiral notebook, with a cigarette lighter in those days.
No one would ever know. I used to write down my dreams, and then consign them to the pyre. Manifestos — oh, I went through a manifesto phase where I defined my generation — went up in smoke. As did intense notes written during biology class about the complicated politics of high school.
Nothing burns anymore.
That is my secret. I never told anyone I loved her. I just suffered in silence. Unrequited love is perfect because it just sits there and does nothing, like a pretty vase.
Except that now you know. I did this on purpose. I have written this out on my computer, and it is now published for all to read. I could delete these words, but they would still survive the way earthly radio waves radiate out into the cosmos for eternity.
I suppose I could douse my MacBook in gasoline and light a fire. Yes, I could do that. And, also, my smartphone. Although, sadly, I don’t think there’s a practical way to ignite all of the digital tentacles that bind and strangle us.
Those days of lighting up poems weren’t so long ago. How far we’ve come. Once upon a time, you could suffer in silence.
I bet you have a secret. Or you think you do. It’s what makes you you, right? Your inner thoughts. Your dreams. The voice in your head. You are unique. You are special.
I remember a few years back when an intern excitedly told me that all the nudes he sends his girlfriend on his new chat app 100 percent absolutely disappeared into the ether. I didn’t have the heart to tell him the internet never forgets. The internet remembers everything. His dick pics live in a memory bank in some temperature-controlled warehouse somewhere.
Who knows? Maybe some programmer has seen them and judged, with a snicker.
Anyway, here’s some advice: Turn your secrets into poems that you then write on a piece of paper and burn in the kitchen sink. I would further recommend that if visual representation of your genitalia is an important aspect of your sexual partnership, draw your junk and hand-deliver it.
Then dispose of it. In a kitchen sink, if possible.
Or, better yet, don’t have any secrets. That is a friendly suggestion. Be nothing. I mean, it’s not like my secret made me special. In this modern world, the only thing that makes me special is my browser history. My memories now have price tags.