North Wind And Sun

Amherst Bytes: Blogging Mixes with Lack of Internet Privacy: ‘Till Death Do Us Part

Originally Published in the Amherst Student on 17 FEB 2009

By the time I finish writing this article, chances are I will have visited Facebook over 10 times, checked my e-mail roughly 20 times and glanced over at my Twitter feed on at least 50 occasions. Hell, chances are that by the time you finish reading this article, you’ll do something similar.

But that’s the strange and unfortunate reality we live in these days. Simultaneously connected and disconnected, our lives are slowly being reduced to data streams, our interactions with other humans relegated to tabs on our browsers or pushed to the sides of our computer screens. Technology and the Internet, some might argue, have changed living and interacting into something alien.

In an article in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, Neil Swidey posits that the real issue isn’t that we are addicted to technology but rather that the notion of being alone in our technology-driven world is dead. “Because of technology, we never have to be alone anymore,” he writes.

And he has a point. The truth of the matter is that few or any of us actually know what being alone is, and in the brief instances of actual disconnectedness that we do experience, we are invariably helpless and anxious.

But how deep does this go exactly? Is there any instance of privacy that has not been absorbed into the grand technology web? Unsurprisingly, no, not really.

On January 24th, a LiveJournal user named 30daystodeath created a post in which he laid out the trajectory of the month leading to his self-inflicted death: On February 23rd, thirty days after his first post, he plans to commit suicide (perhaps intentionally, the user created the blog on what is, according to a few British psychologists, the most depressing day of the year).

30daystodeath’s goal is to give the family he is leaving behind a record of his final days. In addition to his daily posts, he also creates video logs of himself. Taken via a Blackberry camera, these videos, recorded in areas as disparate as a swimming pool and car, are uploaded onto YouTube and embedded into his blog page. It is, as one blogger put, a perfect example of Suicide 2.0.

30daystodeath, who on YouTube goes by “Vidzforthefam,” has, over the course of the last two weeks, developed quite a following, with his videos receiving three thousand views on average. Some users �” 55 of them to be exact �” have even subscribed to Vidzforthefam’s userpage, leaving comments that both encourage him to go through with his deed and imploring him to reconsider.

According to his blog posts, 30daystodeath wants to, directly prior to his death, share his post and his videos with his family. Unfortunately, both his LiveJournal blog and his Lunar Breeze-hosted backup were removed due to Terms of Service violations. It turns out that writing about suicide violates one or more of LiveJournal’s abuse policies, which clearly prohibit users from expressing their intentions to commit suicide. “Suicide is a very serious matter, and we believe it is our responsibility to notify proper authorities when we are made aware of a LiveJournal user attempting to commit suicide. While we may not be legally required to do so, we feel it is our moral and ethical obligation to take any and all action we can to prevent the potential loss of someone’s life.”

There is a lot that should give one pause in this scenario, not the least of which is the fact that this very same thing was attempted just last year, as it eventually became known, by an I Power anti-suicide campaign.

While determining whether or not 30daystodeath is actually a hoax is an enticing-sounding endeavor, I’ll stray away from it, as there isn’t really all that much pointing to its veracity in the first place. 30daystodeath’s methods don’t really make much sense, and the fact that he created a YouTube channel rather than privately recording the videos for his family speaks to more hidden motivations.

But that’s a part of the significance here. Is the creation of a suicide blog the ultimate act of vanity or the ultimate cry for help? What does it mean when a suicide blog engages so many readers? In many ways, it leads directly back into Neil Swidey’s article on the death of the notion of solitariness: Even in the most personal and solitary of acts, people still seek to be connected, to use technology to extend their stories to the computers and cell phones of others. And maybe that’s 30daystodeath’s point.


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