This letter was written 7 February, but only now am I in reach of the internet. Sorry for the delay, and enjoy:
I’m at a nature retreat and everybody wants to take my picture.
We’re on an island, at the far end of the only road, nestled in the forested mist of the Salish Sea. We came here to remove invasive plants and soak in hot tubs. It’s literally the most beautiful place you could hope to spend the weekend, so I get it. Take all the pictures you want. Take selfies in front of the scenery. Get closeups of the critters, snapshots of every slug. Gang up for a group shot, make a music video. Sure.
Just stop pointing cameras at me .
I know, it’s too late. I’ve put my image out there. I still have a Myspace hanging around somewhere, with pictures of my high-school misadventures. When I quit Facebook, and they gave me my data, they had numbers in there for “facial profiling.” Numbers that went to the tenth decimal place! If there were to be an unfriendly AI – or if, by chance, the power of computerized surveillance were to be solely vested in the hands of a small group of rich psychopaths – my face is known.
I still don’t want to be in your picture. Whether it’s superstition, or a healthy sense of paranoia, or a bad hair day, doesn’t matter. Don’t point your phone camera at me without asking. It’s that simple.
For some reason this is heresy in America. Everyone feels entitled to their little part of the surveillance machine. “Why,” they say, “do you have something to hide? Are you wanted ?”
If I were wanted – and I am considered highly desirable in many places, as well as fun at parties – but if I were wanted by the police, I wouldn’t run around telling people about it. I wouldn’t spout off in front of a crowd, “Why yes! I happen to have committed several crimes, some against Man and some against Nature! Forsooth, do not take my daguerrotype, or I fear the mob of torches shall seek me even here!” I would explain my situation quietly, to one or two friends.
Maybe I’m an undocumented worker.
Maybe I have a stalker, or a gang of internet nazis trying to doxx me.
Maybe I just don’t want to be tagged on social media while I’m covered in mud and swinging an axe. It’s the 21C, I’m a Millennial, I’ve got an image to maintain. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have, even on the internet.
For me, there’s just something ineffable about presence. I don’t want to see your photos, I don’t care about your political opinions. There’s nothing for me on social media. I want real, physical presence, the kind where you can read each other’s body language and pheromones and microexpressions. Photographs cheapen presence. They flatten it. They reduce a multidimensional being to a static arrangement of colors.
So I make my presence scarce. If you want some of mine, give me some of yours. Let’s be together, let’s break bread and clink glasses and breathe the same air. If not, well, I guess I’ll see you later.
Will you see me?
Thanks for reading.
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