February 28, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Musings on Internet Privacy

My IT guy just told me to delete a folder I had called "personal music - move to Google". It was really old and I had forgotten all about it but it was hogging up 3GB. Well, that led me down memory lane to all kinds of crazy files I have here at work. One of them appeared to be the draft of a blog post I wrote on November 25, 2003 but never posted, probably because I couldn't strike the right tone and wasn't sure if I should post it at all. But it's Throwback Thursday so what the heck, here goes:

Photo Credit: Jim Barker, flickr

Recently I came across an article Peter Miller of CTCNet wrote called Requiem for the BCS and NPTN [note from 2014: the URL I had for this in 2003 has been taken over by a junk wordpress blog, but thanks to the Wayback Machine, it was easy to find the article. Goddess bless the Internet Archive].

I was instantly transported back to High School when I read the part of the article that mentioned one of my classmates, Jonathan Rotenberg, who founded the Boston Computer Society (BCS)in 1977

He was not someone I actually spoke to, as far as I know. He was an always smiling, often suit and tie wearing, unfathomably intelligent, certified geek who was nearly always having a bad hair day (or do I just think that because our High School yearbook photo features him grinning while touching the van der graaf generator, hair sticking wildly into the air?). 

The BCS went on to become the largest computer user group in the world with 23,000 members. All started by a crazy geeky pipsqueak with a passion for computers before most of us knew they existed. After noticing his name in Peter’s article, I was surprised that his Google hits were only 78. That seemed low for someone who has been immortalized in various histories of personal computing.

Thanks to Google, I was able to figure out what he’s been up to. I almost feel like I was able to figure out more than I should. One thing I noticed was that he and a fellow named Marc donated money to Fenway Community Health in the year 2000. I seemed to have unearthed his sexual orientation. I only mention this because I later found an article, Gays at Home in High Tech, that clearly confirms he’s out and proud. 

It really makes you think about privacy. Google makes it a lot easier to be a private detective nowadays. 

I also determined he got his MBA from Harvard and was active in the Gay and Lesbian Student Association there: “A year earlier, in 1992, then dean of the Business School--the Business School--John MacArthur chose not only to fund the Harvard Business School Gay and Lesbian Audiotext Hotline, but to single out Jonathan Rotenberg, M.B.A. '92, its creator, in his commencement address” 

And that's it. The blog post was never quite finished, but clearly my thoughts were about the sheer power of Teh Google, which people did not quite understand so well in 2003. The phrase "digital footprint" had not been coined yet.

Peter's article is really quite lovely, by the way, and reminds me of the writing I am supposed to be doing here, when he says of the BCS, "let us first acknowledge the passing and loss." 

Jonathan is trucking along, as amazingly accomplished as ever, but has long since shed any traces of the awkward teenage geek. 

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