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Cleaning virtual house

Posted by: Jessi Hempel on May 23, 2007

A long time ago in 2005, I started writing about social networks. I signed up for everything, and invited everyone I knew to join my circles upon circles of friends. But, when you attend a networking event and give your card out to 50 people, you ultimately only follow up with those who interest you. And so it is with social networking sites.

Now, in May 2007, my networked life is pretty set. I have active profiles on Friendster (for my pals in their 30s), MySpace (for my pals who make and share music), Facebook (for my pals in their 20s), and LinkedIn (truthfully, I have no idea what this one is really for, but suddenly everyone I know is doing it). I don’t visit any of these sites because I have to, but because they’ve lodged themselves firmly in the context of my life. I make it on to the first three at least once a week, and sometimes multiple times in a day. And I make it on to LinkedIn every time someone I know somewhere signs up and asks me to connect to them.

Here’s the thing: I want my other virtual identities to just go away already. Yet they come back to tease and annoy me constantly. sends me flashy notices reminding me that somewhere some group of Gen X and Babyboomer women are swapping photos I might want to see. MyYearbook emails me every day to tell me that I have a secret admirer, inspiring constant annoyance. If I could remember my password or even my handle, I could proactively remove the profile, but I’m lazy and forgetful. And then I start to wonder how many profile corpses I’ve abandoned. And is there a quick and efficient way to clean my virtual house?

Reader Comments

Pete Mortensen

May 23, 2007 12:41 PM

To the best of my knowledge, there isn't yet, and it points to a real opportunity for someone if they can figure out how to take care of it.

Someone close to me has a similar trail of profiles greater than she could manage, and an ex-boyfriend of hers who wouldn't accept the end of their relationship managed to hack into all such profiles. In many cases, she only found out about the profiles because she got harassed by one of them.

So there's an annoyance need, and there's also a security need here.

Interestingly enough, Douglas Coupland talked about this when I saw him speak at Powell's Books in Portland last summer. As is typical for Coupland, he was ostensibly there to do a reading from his new book "jPod" but he mainly ended up musing on the way technology is causing us to live now. And one thing he noticed was the digital "Shadow" all of us who have been online for a long time have -- reams and reams of data about ourselves we can't get rid of. As reported in a Time article, Coupland said:

"TIME: There's a character in the novel named Douglas Coupland. Why is he such a jerk?

DC: Oh, the anti-Doug. He's evil. Getting back to Google, in this world you stand in the sun and you have your shadow that follows you everywhere. Now you stand and Google casts a 'shadow you' on you. You've got this thing that follows you no matter where you go. It's going to survive your real shadow long after you're dead. It's composed of truth, half-truth, lies, vengeance, wishful thinking, accuracy, inaccuracy. It grows and grows and gets bigger. It's you but it's not you. Mine's pretty large at the moment but I think in a few years, everyone's is going to be huge. It won't be just people in the public light any more. The anti-Doug is my creative response to all of that."

Some of this is in the form of abandoned or forgotten social-networking profiles, but it's also your banking details, credit reports, shopping history, browsing history, e-mails, search history (thanks, Google!) poorly thought-out rants and photos you wish you'd kept better control over.

We're already starting to see a demand for products that give us no footprint on the Internet -- there are plenty of privacy browsing services these days -- but no one has yet found a way to begin going through to not just minimize harm now but go back and fix mistakes dating from the early 1990s. I know I would be interested in such a service: I mean, Amazon still has track of every address that I have shipped a package to, including the little dorm room in the New School where I lived for three months! And I don't even want to think of some of the words ascribed to my name that exist on various comic book message boards over the years...

We live in an era of digital shadows. Won't someone help us shake them more effectively?

[Originally Posted to]


June 24, 2007 8:26 AM

hi i was you know any good sites that in it you can make a house and live in it?I'm desperate.

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