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Your life will be graded

Vox Day* links to a discussion of Peeple, a new app that will let you rate other human beings. He writes:

Congratulations, world. Now everyone online will discover what my life has been like since 2001. And to be honest, it’s really not a big deal as long as you don’t have a problem with people not liking you.

The idea of living your life in public isn’t new. People used to live in small communities where everybody knew each other. Today we’re returning to a world where you can’t escape your past. And, I agree with Vox that, in many ways, it’s a good thing. Let me explain. You see, according to the Washington Post article:

It’s inherently invasive, even when complimentary. And it’s objectifying and reductive in the manner of all online reviews. One does not have to stretch far to imagine the distress and anxiety that such a system would cause even a slightly self-conscious person; it’s not merely the anxiety of being harassed or maligned on the platform — but of being watched and judged, at all times, by an objectifying gaze to which you did not consent.

Vox is right that public figures are already subject to this kind of scrutiny, and the result isn’t always as bad as you’d imagine. I have a personal example to share. I recently acquired a penfriend who is very different from me and happens to be somewhat infamous (not Vox Day BTW).

We’ve exchanged a number of emails and, as time went on, I’ve been discovering my new pal’s extensive online back history. They’ve not only written a prodigious quantity of books and articles, but have commented widely on forums. I’ve seen them on videos, and they’ve been subject to thousands of words of gossip and even line-by-line fisks of their work. I’ve read whole threads of amateur psychological speculation, as well as savage attacks on their career, character, family. You name it, I’ve read it.

In some ways, it’s the opposite to virtue signalling. And you’d expect that I’d stop talking to them, but – incredibly – I haven’t. You see, as well as reading all the bad stuff, I’ve also read people who evidently know this person and have praised their kindness and generosity of spirit. This backs up my own experience – I can’t say a bad word about them. They’ve been absolutely lovely.

In a sense, it’s made me more confident. They’re a known quantity. In some ways, after reading millions of words of negative commentary,  I liked them more. In other ways, Geek Fallacy #4. Indescribably. Most people know other people have flaws. There are some flaws we accept in friends, and some we don’t. Some are flaws we ruefully admit we might have ourselves… for better or for worse.

In a way, rating people could make us more understanding of each other. When you’ve got to live your life in public, any hypocrisy is obvious to anyone paying attention. You can’t insult people behind their back or be two-faced. And it’s impossible to pretend to be holier-than-thou… You won’t hide the all-too-human slip-ups all of the time.

So – what can I say – roll on the Peeple.


If you’re interested in privacy issues, I’d recommend The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi. The novel is partly set on  a far-future walking city on Mars where people have privacy settings. They can choose to appear invisible – even in private to their housemates. Being ‘outed’ is a humiliating social taboo. It’s Facebook for real life, and a very cool idea.

There’s also a short story somewhere about a reputation-based economy with massive surveillance (searched online; can’t find it. I think it was by Cory Doctorow). A character makes a taboo comment at a party and instantly loses everything – their reputation, their job, their friends, even their flat. We’re kinda in that world right now, but I can’t see that being sustainable… It’s simply too socially corrosive.

[*Yep, I read Vox Day’s blog. This doesn’t mean I endorse his political views – just so you know].

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