We are all scarred. We are all damaged. Life sometimes feels like a cycle of Internet horror stories coming at us furiously, one after the other. Year after year. It’s enough to make you want to start a diary of Internet disasters. I write this diary from the second person point of view because I want to make clear that none of this stuff has actually happened to me, in particular. I just happen to be the one who’s written the story. It could be any one of us. It could be you.
You get into trouble for fingering people in your junior year at college. “Fingering” is the actual name of the program where you could find out exactly which computer your crush was using, and in which building on campus, simply by typing in their email address. Glorious! You finger a wide and diverse array of your classmates, willy-nilly. Often. You don’t realize that some enterprising engineering students have invented a program for “reverse fingering.” Can you guess what that means? This is the first time that being an Internet stalker has resulted in mortification, but it is far from your last.
You attempt to download a bunch of Rage Against the Machine tracks on Napster, hoping to impress the cute but angry guy in your 19th Century British Lit class. You open the file and instead of “No Shelter," you realize you’ve downloaded “The Hardest Part of Breaking Up (Is Getting Back Your Stuff)," the hit song from the MTV parody boy band 2Gether, featuring Chris Farley’s older brother Kevin. Even worse, you realize you that this song is better than any Rage Against the Machine song.
You check your very first boss’s email, as laid out in your job description. He is a very important literary agent who does not have time, particularly after a three-martini lunch, to thoroughly check his email. But you are thorough. Among the emails you find is a reply to your boss’s email: “Do you know anyone who’d make a good assistant for me? This current one doesn’t seem to be working out.” You mark the email as unread, go to the bathroom, lock yourself in a stall, cry quietly, wish you were back in college or high school or your mother’s womb.
Your Craigslist roommate seemed like such a nice, down-to-earth Midwestern girl in her ad. She is actually a deranged lunatic who is some unholy combo of Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female and any role ever played by Meredith Baxter-Birney in a TV movie.
Friendster tells you that your former high school boyfriend is now married.
Oh, wow! Your high school boyfriend is now a father.
An event that you can still only refer to as The Great Friendster Debacle of ‘05. It’s like reverse fingering all over again. For one afternoon, Friendster allows you to see all the people who’ve looked at your profile. And vice versa. You actually have to leave work early because you suddenly feel “sick.” Amid all the stalker shame you’re feeling, you allow yourself to a tiny moment to gloat because your married high school boyfriend — who’s now a father — has been looking at you. You sign up for MySpace immediately.
Wrong window on AOL Instant Messenger. You’d meant to complain about the putrid color of a bridesmaids dress to a fellow bridesmaid. You did not mean to send it to... the bride. This is horrifying, but not as horrifying as you look in that tangerine ruffled nightmare.
Your Uncle Max comments on the first post you’ve written for the blog at your brand new job. This may or may not be what it said, verbatim:
[NAME REDACTED], My Love-
HOW WONDERFUL TO SEE THIS!!!
Dad just sent this to me. Unbelievably creative. I loved it!!!!
What can I do to support this?
Just tell me what would help you to ascend the corporate organization and become President! Hope to see you soon sweetie. Happy Chanukah!
All my love,
You get teased mercilessly about this for two weeks, and then your co-workers mostly forget. You write about it six years later.
It’s OK that you don’t remember what happened on New Years because there’s a fantastic YouTube video that’s captured the whole thing!
You do a Google image search for Buffy and Angel. You discover that Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfiction is disturbing in ways you couldn’t have imagined. Here’s just one word related to this terrible discovery: tentacles. Tentacles! There’s copious art that goes along with it. You can’t unsee it, ever.
Your former high school boyfriend is now the father of three. Thanks, Facebook!
Guy you went on five dates with from OKCupid last year just asked to link to you on LinkedIn. Because you really want to recommend this guy to future employers. You can totally endorse his skills in many pertinent areas of business, including drunk texting, makeout music playlist curation, and disappearing off the face of the Earth without returning three of your books he borrowed.
Your best friend from seventh grade just “liked” Paul Ryan on Facebook. Your number two BFF from junior high just “liked” Chick-Fil-A. Further investigation shows that the majority of your graduating class from high school is racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and just really into guns and Charlie Sheen.
2012 part 2
Your ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend are hosting a DJ night together at some bar in Williamsburg and Facebook thought you’d like to know because all of your friends are going! So many of your friends are going! All of your friends! Going!
2012 part 3
You think you’ve defriended your ex on every social media platform in existence but then you realize that you are still connected on Netflix. You begin to analyze what it means if he’s watching The Big Lebowski again.
You do a Google Image search for “young Paul Newman” and one of the first images to come up is a photo of Paul Walker. Unacceptable.
2013 part 2
You discover a blog on which approximately 4% of the posts involve derogatory comments about your blog. You do not care at all. You do not have time to worry about this nonsense. You check this blog approximately 37 times a day.
There’s no doubt technology will provide brilliant new ways to do the 2014 version of reverse fingering people. The future is unknown, but surely ample opportunities will abound on the Internet to horrify your employers, bring shame to your families, and lose whatever little bit of dignity you have left.