Letting My Imagination Run Wild Without Getting Caught by The Mind Police
Some weirdos think toxins in cat litter can damage your brain. Some people wear tin foil hats so that the government won’t be able to brainwash them from outer space. I’ve heard wack theories about the moon landing, Lincoln’s assassination, cable television, even spinach supplies. But while it’s easy for me to point the finger at other people and call them crazies, or right-wing, it’s much harder for me to admit when I’m being irrational. If I spend a morning muttering to myself and ditching crosswalks in favor of my own beaten path across a four-lane road, so be it. I’m not in the business of punishing myself for my own insanity.
And yet, I’ve recently been doubting my own levelheadness, when it comes to Internet behavior. Don’t worry Mom and FBI, it’s nothing illegal or dangerous that I’m spending my time investigating. I do occasionally entertain the odd hacker fantasy ( a la “Live Free or Die Hard”) but seeing as I once crashed this site attempting simple coding, I know that’s just a pipe dream.
No, it’s the kind of personal investigating I’ve been doing that’s sort of alarming. In this modern age, almost everyone, minus the odd spy and grifter, have an online footprint. Or pawprint, depending on your species and habits. And so, when I meet someone, I have their whole online presence to explore.
It’s about more than googling someone, or conducting a background check, or even reading their entire twitter history. Really figuring out who someone is requires more imagination. When I conduct my investigations, I try to create a whole and rounded life for my subjects. If his name shows up on his 7th grade honor roll but not again for the rest of his k-12 education, I can extrapolate that he had an excellent analysis of Lord of the Flies, but has since stopped reading and turned to hard drugs.
I don’t fancy myself a member of Alexander McCall Smith’s Number #1 Ladies Detective Agency, but I draw on a fine literary tradition of women sleuths. I’m no Encyclopedia Brown, but I have a child genius’s appreciation for details. And all of this has made me passionate about piecing together the stories of people I hardly know.
It all began when I was trying to figure out the whereabouts of a seat mate I’d had on a flight from Tel Aviv to Newark, New Jersey back in 2005. His name was David Diamond, and he was also, a Jew. It was an overnight trip across the Atlantic, and I was feeling uneasy about the end of summer, the beginning of senior year of high school, the turbulence, and faltering gas prices.
David was, in a word, my soul-mate. He got up a few times to pray, and sat uneasily on the edge of his seat, because he was forbidden to touch me. He had soft curls for sideburns, and wore his lop-sided yalmulke in a way that said, “I’m extremely devoted to the God of my ancestors, but I’m also a little absent-mindedly endearing.”
David watched “The Rundown” in silent suspense. It was as if he had never seen a man like the Rock before, with his chiseled abs and bald head.
“They don’t make them like that in Boro Heights, do they?” I said, and I could have sworn he smiled or coughed.
Once we cleared customs, I never saw David Diamond again. I don’t know who picked him up from the airport, what he studied in school, who his best friends became, if he got engaged to the girl down the street who was a little fat but nice enough. I don’t know what he thought about President Obama, or if he watched the Superbowl half-time show, or if he thinks it’s worth it to pay for Netflix.
But these are the things I’ve imagined for him, through the years, with the aid of a little inventive searching, and creative use of social media.
I’d like to say David is the only such figure from my past that I’ve subjected to the Internet gauntlet, but I’d be lying, and it’s really easy for people to catch you in a lie when you publish it online. Does this hobby make me crazy, or much more than a little off-beat? I don’t know. I don’t know that it’s anything worse that what other weirder people do with their neighbors, friendly acquaintances, love interests and Tom Brady.
People don’t have to remain strangers, not with the amount of information that’s available about each of us online. While this can be frightening, and certainly makes people more vulnerable to extortion and worse crimes, it can also be really wonderful and romantic. Just think, your dentist doesn’t just have to be your dentist, you can fuel a delusional love affair with him or her just based on a few choice details easily accessible online!
Let me be clear, I’m not talking about finding someone’s address in order to egg their house or deliver a dozen daffodils every day for ten weeks. I mean to allow the Internet to grow your imagination, so that when you miss people or regret not taking more advantage of a chance encounter, they’re never truly lost.
David Diamond, wherever you are, if you’re allowed to search the Internet freely, I hope you finally figured out what was wrong with your headphones.