Historians will look back at the past 20 years as a unique period, a time when there was great opportunity to see deep into the collective soul of entire societies because people’s online behavior was largely naked of any fears of being judged or monitored.
Novelist Gabriel García Márquez wrote: “All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret.” We once had insight into that secret world.
People now go “dark” — ditching their natures, becoming self-monitored, self-critical, and second guessing themselves and everything around them, in the wake of the NSA disclosures and the enormous amount of corporate spying on individuals, so that they will buy more products. We lose far more than we gain.
The individual and their search box was almost as private and sacrosanct as the communion box — and exhibited the same honesty. You can see this in the search data that AOL released in 2006 as part of a research project. It anonymized 658,000 users but for the first time we got to see a narrative from each user that pointed to great sorrow and drama within ordinary peoples’ lives that could not be revealed in any other way.
Here is a list of searches by user “005315”: