February 16, 2010

I’m Watching You Read This

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You know that sexuality survey you took last Spring? The one that was marked confidential? The one nobody was ever supposed to see? Yeah, when they said, “This survey is confidential and anonymous,” there was a footnote that said, “as long as you do not save this file on a public computer.”

Maybe, “Do you ever feel attracted to your friends?” should have been followed up with, “Do you want strangers to know this?”

Don’t feel ashamed, or alone. I found three such surveys within a week’s span on public computers between Olin and Uris Libraries. Let’s just say I was … curious.

I’m not a bad person. But when I’m sitting there waiting for Excel to load, I can’t help but be drawn to the large file on the desktop titled “ANONYMOUS SEXUALITY SURVEY — CLASSIFIED.doc.” For those of you who think that I violated some type of honor code or privacy statement, screw you — I graduated and don’t follow the rules no more. Also, maybe don’t save your personal documents in the same place where 100 other students can see them?

I mean, I didn’t exactly go out of my way to discover the identity of the author. If it wasn’t easy enough for me to look up your name from your Cornell e-mail on the first page, I finally figured it out when I read your signature at the end of the document. Sincerely indeed.

But please, explain to me why you inserted an additional header and footer on every page with your personal contact information if you didn’t want me to read it. Or was it really worth that $5 Borders’ gift certificate to have your deepest, darkest secrets revealed to a total stranger in the murky depths of the Olin computer bank?

My other favorite findings include a letter to the financial aid office asking for more money (“I can be the next Barack Obama, if you let me.”) and the answers to a homework assignment that I had due in an hour.

Perhaps the people who save this type of discrete information really do want it to be seen, much like me when I am at my most naked (that is, when I am naked). In fact, perhaps they dream of being featured in a campus-wide publication like this, caught with their pants down for all to see. Anonymously, of course.

Well, you guys are welcome. I’m glad I could indulge your fetish.

It’s like an even lamer Post-Secret (“My uncle raped me. Now he’s dead.”). Are we so pathetic that we can’t even do exhibitionism properly? Not four years ago, Penn students were running around taking pictures of themselves getting it on and then publishing it in their own version of the Cornell Daily Sun to prove that, “we do indeed do this sort of thing from time to time, thank you very much.” Here in Ithaca we don’t have that luxury. A sexual survey or a personal letter is probably the best we can find. But you don’t even get saucy documents like that every day. Most of the things saved on public computers are research papers. To an amateur voyeur (google this phrase, trust me), a scattered first draft or an outline doesn’t seem that exciting. But you’re not looking at it from the right perspective.

Do you know that feeling you get when you’re working on something and you hope no one else reads it, because it’s terrible? For example, you’re putting the final touches on some Jazz History paper (you know who you are) that you bullshitted your way through and your only saving grace is the little voice in your head that says, “at least no one will read this paper and deduce from it fundamental flaws in my character and personality.” Yeah, if you wrote a Jazz History paper about Negritude any time in the past year, your worst nightmare just came true.

I am that person. I will read your paper. And I will judge you for it.

Yes, I am talking about all your worst, most inner personal nightmares, the ones that you try everyday to put out of your head. Those are all my domain. For as long as there are people like me (and there always will be, if I have my way), there will be someone who snoops around public computers, looking for naked pictures. I mean, word documents. But believe me, if I am bored at the library I can more than make due with what might seem to any other observer a bland paper about some useless topic. The fact that I’m not supposed to be reading your dissertation on the influences in Cormac McCarthy’s earlier work makes it all that much more exciting. I draw conclusions about your personality and what you are like based on your sentence structure. I judge your level of pretentiousness on how many syllables your big words have (very high level of pretentiousness in this case, surprisingly). I judge your sense of humor by the fact that you actually decided to write a paper about the influences on Cormac McCarthy’s earlier work. I can decipher whether you are hardworking or lazy. I think I can tell what kind of underwear you put on that morning based solely on whether or not you use semicolons.

And if you’re sitting there thinking, “Is he writing this about me?” Yes, yes I am.

Yevgeniy Feldman recently graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at yfeldman@cornell­sun.com. That Really Grinds My Gears appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Yevgeniy Feldman