Jun 10

The age of consent

FT7 comments • 455 views

One of the unfortunate results of having grown up in a world where MySpace existed while I was still underage* is that my previous internet selves occasionally rear their ugly heads and bite me. I had the revelation several years ago that I ought to delete my fifteen-year-old self’s livejournal but while looking for something else, I accidentally stumbled across my rockist seventeen-year-old avatar resolving that I had better stop watching The Hits all day or else I’d “accidentally” start liking McFly. Fortunately, I have no will power.

Nevertheless, by the time I hit the world of internet pervs and weird goth manga, I was of an age where I’d already sufficiently twisted my own brain by buying a Staind album that no further significant damage could occur. My mum can use email and has a Flickr for sharing photos on the SpringWatch feed but she’s never had a MySpace, so there’s no risk of me accidentally finding emo pictures of her on Ancestry.co.uk. That I’m aware of, anyway.

This obviously won’t be the case with the Kids Of Today. If I have children, I’m going to have to spend …well, about nine months most likely, editing my internet presence back to the earliest days. ‘Yes but what if my eight-year-old innocently searches for my name as part of a school project and finds a Taio Cruz review I wrote that mentions standing in a sex shop? Or my McFly fanfic? Oh my god seriously what if they find my McFly fanfic? Where did I even LEAVE the McFly fanfic? I am going to be arrested by social services.’

The great thing is that there is no world in which my children would want to know the drunken things their mother got up to. The sheer unpleasantness of knowing the person who gave birth to you has also begotten badly-grammaticised hell, then abandoned it in the darker and seedier outposts of the fictional universe is just too awful. The problem is that they may have no choice:
‘Hey, Dave**, your mum was pretty fit at university’
‘Fuck off’
‘Yes she was, look, she’s dressed in a vinyl nurses’ uniform with wool on her head’
‘Oh my fucking god I am going to kill myself. On YouTube.’

Which is unfair. I mean, for all I know my seemingly pretty straitlaced parents may have dark pasts involving costume parties and an alter-ego known as Lambrini Girl but sweeping such matters under the rug was much easier when it would have been considered a gigantic faux pas for a friend to appear, years later, with an album of photos of you all falling over, armed with cans of Carling and wild-eyed stares and show everyone you know now, from your boss to your boyfriend to your mother or indeed, your children, whereas this is now considered a necessary part of modern life; I know you can de-tag but some things can’t be unseen. The sort of public exposure to old photos that was previously reserved for celebrities’ children is now thrust, unwillingly, upon those who can’t afford a lifetime of therapy. Christ, how could we be so stupid? Who thought MySpace was a good idea for eighteen-year-olds? Why didn’t anyone tell us this was a bad idea in some way that would have been meaningful at the time, like ‘your future children will sue the shit out of you for trauma if they ever see this unfortunately-angled shot of your cleavage?’

Obviously, with any luck, social media will have moved on by the time any child of mine works out how to use the iThink or whatever and so the idea of using Old Person’s FaceSpace to look at anything would be so unthinkably naff that they might as well just look through PRINT MEDIA, god MUM shut up about book shops, I’m trying to download some new hair. The idea that people could potentially be turning up at Antiques Roadshow saying ‘this is a collection of images taken with a webcam, probably in the early 2000s, although there’s no exact timestamp; we think this is probably my Great Aunt Hazel, although obviously the low resolution makes it difficult to tell,’ is simultaneously ‘waving arms around and laughing’ amazing and THE WORST THOUGHT I HAVE EVER HAD.

“Well, these are fascinating artefacts from the time; obviously this is before 3D and might even be before camera phones. The webcams of the time had no non-visual sensory output but there’s an immense sense of the personal about them, all the same, like looking at primitive cave paintings. Very brutalist: it’s a fascinating find but sadly I doubt it will be of great worth to a collector as if you look closely here, there’s been quite considerable compression-damage over the years.”

Still the weight of all that ancestry (even if somehow I managed to find some kind of magic tool that can delete things forever on a self-perpetuating media) is so in your face. I mean sure, I could read some things my parents wrote when they were nineteen but it wouldn’t be RIGHT THERE ON THE BBC. “Google your parents” sa the primary school teacher, thinking ‘dere god but I need a laff’ and then that’s it, they’ll never forgive me: ‘mum I can’t believe you used to fancy Kano! He’s OLD. Pay for my therapy!’

Web 2.0 (if that’s what we’re still on, even) will leave blazing trails of your parents’ involvement in fandom. That was always true of the internet, though and to be honest, once you’ve had a bloody good laugh about your dad writing about Warhammer then that’s very much the end of that particular avenue of trauma and also an excellent way to work out what the hell to get him for Christmas. The real horror is going to be teenagers loosed upon social media sites. You know your bad goth poetry? YOU PUT IT ON DEVIANTART. Can you delete it? Well, theoretically but can you remember your password? Do you still have your sixteen-year-old email address to retrieve it from? Have you FORGOTTEN IT EXISTED until the soon-to-be-immortal phrase “Mummy, what was it like living in the dark pit of darkness, can we visit it” pipes up?

The WayBack Machine never forgets, never forgives. Your foolish seventeen-year-old self now stands as a terrible warning far worse than merely informing your children that you’ve proved with science if you drink an entire bottle of Glen’s Vodka you WILL throw up for the next four days and so there’s no need for them to conduct any further research in this area. Future generations will laugh at the teenagers of the 00s in ways previously unimaginable: this isn’t just your teenage diary, this is stuff always intended to be public. My MySpace angles: let me show you them when you least expect it and what you thought was a sweetly nostalgic trip into an innocent past becomes a mawkish b-movie of sparkling .gifs of Robert Pattinson,*** ‘omg sooooooooo hungover what did I do last nite lol’ and the breasts that fed you.

Hypothetical children: we are all very sorry. Now how do I delete this before you find it?

*In, err, Madagascar or somewhere. But that’s the idea of the WORLD WIDE WEB. In fact, it’s probably still illegal for me to have sex SOMEWHERE. Those pop-up public loos, perhaps; no one’s old enough for that and in any case how can something that transient exist in any known state under any known legislation? This is a literal can of worms.
**I will not actually be calling any of my hypothetical children Dave; too many associations with Busted’s worst single.
***The only sparkling .gifs I have ever made were of Immanuel Kant. This can be but small comfort though: “Your interests include ‘pretending making playlists is constructive,’ Mum, you can’t make me do my homework.”


  1. 1
    Bec on 11 Jun 2010 #

    Brava, lady! Hilarious and scary in equal measures.

  2. 2
    unlogged mog on 11 Jun 2010 #

    Thank you dude!

    I have only just noticed the terrifying nature of the accompanying picture. Cripes.

  3. 3
    weej on 13 Jun 2010 #

    I remember Hallgrímur Helgason talking about something similar in “101 Reykjavik”, before the internet was popular. I can’t find the quote, so to paraphrase he said something like “People in old photographs always look stern and sensible. That’s because in those days you’d only have one photo taken of you in your life, so you’d better take it seriously. These days there are too many pictures. What are our ancestors going to make of us? ‘Here’s my great-great-grandfather drunk at a party?’ We’re going to look like a generation of idiots.”
    I can’t help but wonder, though, if our children will be interested. I wrote enough things that mortify me right up into my early 20s, but was wise enough to use pseudonyms most of the time, and much of it seems to have disappeared into the ether anyway. Also I don’t know about you, but I don’t google my parents’ names, the curiosity just isn’t really there.
    Really enjoyed this article, by the way.

  4. 4
    Tom on 13 Jun 2010 #

    I think the menace is more “other people googling your parents names” rather than you doing it!

  5. 5
    lonepilgrim on 13 Jun 2010 #

    I recently googled a new friend and discovered that her father was a very successful academic.
    The next time I met her she mentioned him to me and I had to feign ignorance rather than admit to being a weird online stalker

  6. 6
    unlogged mog on 14 Jun 2010 #

    I think it’s the idea of “internet ancestry” that most alarms me, probably because my parents have been entertaining themselves delving into our offline ancestry and there’s always a market for intellectualising stalker tendencies, especially when there’s some claim that you have a right of lineage to know, etc. I suppose it’s not your children children who might do it but your adult children could: potentially far more disturbing.

    I think I would actually get off pretty lightly, to be honest: I never had any especially risque shots on MySpace, etc. but dear lord a lot of people my age (23, I was 18 by the time MySpace had appeared) and especially younger did.

    Mind you, MySpace is now so passe that it gets let through my work firewall. Presumably because it doesn’t have FarmVille. (inherited farms: this problem becomes more and more disturbing with the ethics of whether you should get a barn just because your parents had one…)

  7. 7
    Ben on 15 Jun 2010 #

    Interesting article. Some good points – the “can you delete your deviantart” issue is one I’ve already encountered. A friend asked me if I’d delete my very first ever Angelfire website, which still, scarily, exists. He was unhappy because his employer had Googled him and comments that he made on my website (created in about 1997) had come up in the search.

    Obviously I no longer have my login details for that site. I don’t even have the email account I used to sign up for that website any more. I contacted Lycos (who own Angelfire) about a dozen times, but have been unable to get the site removed.

    One day, my kids might see that same website, filled with embarrassing photos and bad grammar. And that scares me.

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