The day I decided to put everything on the internet

“Is it weird having all that information about you out there, for everyone to see?” he asked me. “I feel like I wouldn’t want people to know that much about me.” The year was 1995, and most people did not have their lives on the internet. I was in graduate school, and modeling part time. I had an AOL homepage where I shared modeling pictures, fitness tips, philosophical ramblings, and newsy updates about my life. It was essentially a “blog”, even though this was about a decade before that term would become common coin.

The internet was small back then… or at least, smaller than it is now. Through a somewhat patchwork strategy of mixing shirtless photos, practical workout advice, gay politics, and strident essays about the need to incorporate theories of subjectivity and phenomenology into models of artificial intelligence, I was beginning to develop an odd little following.

By today’s standards, the mid-1990’s internet was sparse and unreliable. There was a lot of bullshit and lies, especially when it came to online hookups, dating, and social relationships. Nobody had digital cameras, so most people didn’t have photos of themselves online. I had to scan my modeling photos at the campus computer center to upload them to my AOL profile. (My “naughty selfies” were even more of a hassle, as I’ve written about before.) Many people didn’t have those resources, so if you wanted to flirt, or talk dirty, or even just get to know someone better online, the most common (and honest) thing to hear from people was: “Sorry, I don’t have any pics.”

People using pictures of other people was also very common. You’ve probably heard the term “catfishing”, but it’s a relatively small problem today. We can now drop any photo we want into Google Image Search, and it will find every copy of that same picture that has ever been posted to the web; as a result, if someone decides to use a picture from some random “hot” person’s profile and pass it off as their own, you can usually discover it within moments. Moreover, almost everyone these days has a long and fairly detailed history on Facebook or other social media. In 2017, it takes a huge amount of work to build up the collateral you need to convince someone that pictures of someone else are actually pictures of you.

Not so in 1994! When someone emailed you some pictures they claimed to be of themselves, you could either trust it… or not. I even had people accuse me of being a faker. “You just uploaded pictures of some hot model to your profile,” a guy named Justin accused me in a chatroom one time. Someone else asked why Justin had such a difficult time believing that my pictures were authentic. “Because the internet is all computer geeks… nobody that hot is online.”

I didn’t even know where to begin dealing with that level of cognitive dissonance. But I was annoyed.  So, I took a photo of myself holding a sign just for Justin, brought it to a corner store that had 24 hour photo development services, then went to the computer and scanned it in.  Two days after the incident, I found Justin and sent him my response.

(Yes, my AOL username was “AllAmericanJock”. Feel free to mock me as much as you wish.)

This story sticks out in my mind because it represents a very early lesson I learned:

When someone talks shit about you online,
you cannot make those statements go away.

All you can do is send out your own competing information.

This lesson came up in my life over and over again during that period. As my niche little following grew, so did my little population of detractors. People started rumors that I was an escort. Ex-boyfriends of mine would publish all kinds of murky “gossip” to hurt me. One time I broke my regular weekend clubbing habit for four weekends in a row, and some people online speculated that I was sick. Maybe I was dying. Maybe I even had AIDS!

And between these more dramatic events was the more commonplace drama: people talking about me being arrogant, shallow, stupid, ignorant, mean… the list goes on and on.

So when a casual friend asked me if it was “weird” having so much information about me on the internet, I had a ready answer:

You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. There’s no way to remove the information already out there. I think the only way to protect myself is to go in the opposite direction, and put out everything: live my entire life out loud, in public, for all to see.

If the only thing out there is my name, then anyone can say “Greg Stevens is a conceited jerk” and people have nothing to go on except that statement.  If my entire life is available, then at least people can make up their own minds as to whether I’m a conceited jerk or not.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

That was more than two decades ago, but it’s still a philosophy I live by today. Will I come to regret it? Maybe: the world is very different today, and one could argue that there is more risk now associated with sharing all of your opinions, activities and thoughts on the internet than there was in the 1990’s. But somewhere along the way, I decided that I’m willing to accept that risk to be the person I want to be.

And I’m comfortable with that decision.

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  1. theschnauzers says:

    How long have I tried to keep up with you? I remember you had your page on the U of Miv
    Chicano server, and I remember coming across a link to that page in the original version of the “Men on the Net” directory website. Even earlier than 1998, if I recall correctly.
    I’m using my online moniker as I’ve used that everywhere except in the online game of Nationstates. Just so you know.

  2. Greg,

    I go back online a tad further than you, within a different context.

    Nevertheless, a good part of what you’ve written about rings rock solid and true – posers, falsehoods, nincompoops and bullshitters.

    Like Life – real and virtual – my shitscreen became more refined – a finer mesh through which information and impressions were filtered.

    Was I duped from time to time – yep!

    Thing was, I, also, learned what have become Life Lessons, become my truer self and have learned that if I’m authentic, as the ‘Net and I evolved, like attracts like. All good.

    Sure, risking to put one’s self “out there,” under many circumstances, is a “risk”. Through my experiences, in RL and online, the greater “risk” is to continue to be unauthentic, a liar, and many more attributes. Truth will out.

    Thanks for taking that risk, then and now, Greg.

    Excellent reflection and writing about it.

    Cheers! (~~~)D

    ~ Jessan

    P.S. Wonderful to have “bumped” into you via Twitter! 🙂

  3. Ha ! I remember that Justin photo episode. What burned him more than anything was that the guy in the photo just got a Ph.D. He finally admitted it !!!!!!!!!

    • Greg Stevens says:

      LOL…! I don’t even remember the incident THAT well…. although it was before I’d finished grad school, so it was while I was getting my ph.d.

      But still… the entire thing was kind of funny. I’m glad you remember it!

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