You can’t see me

There is a widespread conviction that the internet has resulted in an invasion of privacy and the global accessibility of personal details.  Bank accounts, emails, state secrets (if the tabloids are to be believed), public scandal… they’re all there for our consumption.  However, there is the other side of the coin, the side that not many of us tend to look at.

Yes, the internet has provided us with almost unlimited access to all sorts of information previously barred from view.  But it has also given us a vast cloak of anonymity.  Fake e-mail addresses, pseudonyms on Twitter, alter-egos on Facebook…  The internet lets us be whoever we want to be.  Sometimes this ability to literally hide behind a screen doesn’t go as far as complete anonymity.  Those of you who use instant messaging in various forms (Facebook chat, BBM, Whatsapp etc) will know that it’s sometimes easier to type something in a little box than it is to say face-to-face.  You might not call that person you got with the other night, but saying hi through social media is far less scary and somehow more acceptable.  These different forms of communication are less personal than a standard conversation, and therefore convey less emotion.  After all, what easier way to back out of an accidental confession of feelings than putting ‘mega lolz ;)’ at the end?

And then there’s the slightly more sinister end of the spectrum, in which live those morally questionable people who use the digital masquerade of the internet to do some serious damage.  Hackers and virus-spreaders make up the more tangible part of this group, and while I agree that the harm they do is serious, it is, mostly, repairable.  What makes me see red is the type of person who uses the internet to psychologically abuse others.  Call it internet bullying or whatever else you like, the fact is that playground behaviour has moved to cyberspace, and this time it’s not just children who are both the perpetrators and the victims.  On a personal level, I’ve been on the receiving end of slightly vicious and unnecessary comments posted by people posing as friends.  To the person who went to all the trouble to create a fake Hotmail account and then write a comment telling me to ‘get a life’, all I can say is, take your own advice.  Better still, if you feel that strongly about something I’ve written, own up to it and tell me in person.  And I think this is what gets to me the most.  Ultimately, these people using a shield of fake names and encoded IP addresses are displaying an extreme form of cowardice.  It’s becoming easier by the day for someone to say something negative and make derogatory comments, and yet stay hidden from view.  I’d understand if we lived under an oppressed regime and had to preserve our identities for fear of being dragged away in the middle of the night by some KGB-esque force, but we don’t. 

Image

Ultimately, hiding behind a name plucked out of thin air and writing insulting, hurtful and sadistic things on the internet is rather petty, and incredibly pathetic.  Comments that have been written on my blog (and have since been deleted) are small beer compared with what has appeared in the media in recent years.  One person’s violent campaign of hate against a teenager, complete with messages sent from multiple fake email addresses, which resulted in the suicide of the victim, is just one example of what internet anonymity can bring about.  I doubt that this is what this masked messenger had in mind, which just goes to show how effective communicating through the internet can be, and how quickly it can get out of hand.

We are lucky enough to live in a part of the world where we won’t be punished for voicing our opinions, and I feel we should use this right to its full effect.  However, there is a huge difference between this and abusing the privacy offered by the internet.  My view is, if you can’t admit to saying something, then it’s probably not worth saying at all.

Changing it up

Everyone knows that people change.  We develop, grow (both physically and mentally), and hope to continually become a better person.  Well, the majority do anyway.  So it’s only natural that with all this gradual metamorphosis, our beliefs attitudes towards certain things change as well.

For example, as a child receiving a Christian (and predominantly Catholic) upbringing, I readily accepted the existence of God.  I said my prayers before bedtime, went to church, although not always willingly, and didn’t really think too much about the whole thing.  But, time and life happened, and my opinions have reversed.  The same goes for lots of less existential matters: I used to want a caravan, and now hate them; I used to think that a pink stretch limousine was the last word in cool, and now wouldn’t be caught dead in one; Big Brother used to be unmissable, and now I feel it’s an insult to my intelligence to watch it.

And in a similar way, my attitude towards sex has changed drastically over the last seven or so years.  For quite a few years, I didn’t really see what all the fuss was about in terms of emotion.  So sure, you sleep with a guy more than a few times and you begin to maybe think of him in more than physical terms, but then again we’re only human.  To me, sex was there to be enjoyed, and it didn’t really matter who it was with.  Going to university and being single opened up a limitless world of boozy fumbles.  Partly due to me going through various personal issues at the time, and partly because I genuinely didn’t care, most of my second year was spent drunk and naked.  Sex didn’t make me feel used; completely the opposite actually.  Here was a form of empowerment that I hadn’t experienced before, made all the more satisfying when the complications of emotions were removed.  Whilst I never went on a night out with the sole purpose of getting some action, it always made for a more interesting night if something was on the cards.  In fact, thinking back on it, a lot of the enjoyment was held in recounting my antics from the previous night to a few hungover friends and seeing their reactions.  I think it’s safe to say that I had a very male attitude towards sex.

I think at this point I need to add a few disclaimers.  Firstly, I always have been and always will be a strong advocate of safe sex.  Secondly, I will never say that my behaviour during this period was particularly the right thing to do.  Thirdly, of course I became emotionally attached to a few guys along the way, but it nearly never worked out which only served to enhance the attractiveness of purely physical sex.

Anyway, I guess you could say that I was morally questionable, but at least I was having a good time.  The hedonistic and carnal pleasures of single life were proving too hard to resist, and for a while I thought I could continue in the same fashion indefinitely, or at least while the university environment was still readily available.  But, a few disastrous one-night stands and one rape later, my attitude towards sex has changed.  Before the really horrible event, I had begun to feel a bit cheap and worthless, and then becoming a victim of rohypnol and everything that comes with it only clarified the issue for me.  Now, the thought of taking a guy home that I’d only met a few hours before now makes my skin crawl, and the thought of having sex with someone who I haven’t got to know on a more platonic basis makes me uncomfortable.  And I think it’s this ‘comfort’ factor that really gets me now.  I don’t want to share a bed with someone who’s name I don’t remember.  I don’t want to lie there in the morning waiting for some guy (who’s probably not as attractive as the night before) to wake up and go home.  I don’t want to pretend that this mutual acceptance of being another notch on the bedpost is OK.

I’m not saying that I’ll never have a one-night stand again.  After all, I’m only 23 and still have a whole load of life experience ahead of me.  Neither am I saying that sex always needs to ‘mean’ something.  But I do think that there can be a balance between the person I used to be and the feeling that sex should be an expression of love (or an act of procreation).  No one wants to wake up wondering who’s lying next to them, or trying to plan the quickest escape route.  Yes, it makes for a good story, but it’s hard to get rid of that slightly empty feeling that stays with you after the banter and cheeky comments have gone.  I now like establishing some kind of rapport with a guy, actually knowing something about them, and being able to make an informed decision as to whether letting them take my clothes off would be a good idea or not.

So, like I said, people change.  I like to think that, in this respect at least, I’ve changed for the better.  It may have taken one of the worst things a girl can ever go through to get to this stage, but I’ve always maintained that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  And what’s next on the agenda?  Vegetarianism?  I hope not.  Full-blown Catholicism?  Unlikely.  A new-found appreciation for 18-century French literature?  Doubtful.  We cannot predict how we will change, or how quickly it may happen.  Of course there will be some things that change us for the worse, and these are usually unavoidable or completely random.  But in the meantime, I’m eagerly anticipating what the next few years will bring and how different I’ll be at the age of 30.  Watch this space…