In Part 1 of her look into using new technology to defeat the intrusive nature of new technology, MONTAG's Kathryn Lawrence explored what you need to do to disappear online.

In Part 2, she tells the story of one man who actually disappeared completely.


It’s now common practice for future employers to search your social media before deciding whether to hire you.

In this case, deleting all of your social data should only work in your favor.

No one is going to get a job for having great party pictures on their public Facebook profile, but certainly you could lose your chance at one for having a bad reputation online (those same “great” party pictures may not look so great to the HR manager).

So if you have any mention of drug use, illegal behavior, or other undesirable characteristics for future employment, you may be better off hiding your shady social media past.

We want to know what your ex-partners looked like.

According to one study, 74% of people will research each other on social media before dating. This is its own “hiring process” so to speak, but it goes in the other direction: not having any social media presence in a dating scenario is seen as creepy.

We want to know if there are more pictures than the ones specifically chosen for dating sites, if the interests listed on a profile appear to be genuine – and of course, what your ex-partners looked like.

When it comes to relationships, women in particular have a high level of skill in this kind of "cyberstalking" – it’s not creepy to know the details of someone’s life before you agree to meet them for coffee, because for some it’s a form of self-protection. (Men worry significantly less about dying from an encounter with a stranger they meet online.)

So besides your employers and potential romantic partners, who else will care if you disappear from the internet?

The internet still mourns the sudden disappearance of one beloved programmer.

Known as “why the lucky stiff” or simply “_why,” Jonathan Gilette was an extremely active member of the Ruby programming community, best known for creating Why’s (Poignant) Guide To Ruby, a humorously and brilliantly illustrated introduction to the Ruby programming language, which was published in 2004.

Before his “infosuicide,” he appeared at several programming conferences, but according to Annie Lowrey’s comprehensive Slate article on his disappearance,

“He booked conference tickets under a pseudonym. He never put down a credit card in front of other Ruby conference participants, instead paying in cash. He would leave public gatherings by just disappearing. He had even waged a campaign to get his Wikipedia profile killed.”

For some reason, perhaps due to some strange obsession with his work and his mysterious identity, he was doxxed in an extraordinary fashion. Someone created a Wordpress site called “whoiswhytheluckystiff.wordpress.com/” and revealed everything they could: his name, place of residence, photographs, phone numbers, educational details, and more.

Then in 2009, he mysteriously disappeared from the internet entirely, shutting down his personal website, Twitter, and Github page – deleting numerous repositories of valuable Ruby learning materials in the process. Luckily the Ruby community banded together in his wake to save all of his projects and have even continued maintaining many of them in his sudden absence.


Many people questioned if the doxxed information on _why was even correct.

This Hacker News thread has some alternative theories, and others wondered if “_why” wasn’t the moniker for some kind of collective. But at the time of the Slate reporter’s writing (2012) it was confirmed: _why was a real, singular person and he simply wanted to disappear.

Of course, due to the Streisand effect, _why only became more famous.

In 2013, a mysterious book appeared as a series of printer commands on his re-activated Github account, which was assembled into a book called “CLOSURE” which you can read on Scribd or download from Github.


from CLOSURE

The writings in CLOSURE are written in many different formats – photocopied handwritten notes, typed pages, comics – but their style reveals they could only have come from the mind of _why: the same whimsical and bizarre prose, but now turned on the concept of identity and anonymity.


Our final communiqué from the man who disappeared completely are thoughts, from beyond the digital grave.

They're on the significance, or otherwise, of one man’s life in the face of what he called the “Leviathan” – that is, the internet.

And they are suitably poetic final words on the unexpected value of a disconnected life:

“I didn’t realize this at first, but there is an enormous temptation (when you’re completely disenfranchised from society) to write a manifesto, a scathing one, that shreds apart all the fixations of that society (both real and imagined) and attempts to predict that society’s demise or to deliver up a host of cryptic and/or seemingly lucid stuff as a challenge for that society to live the way I do.

“I’m sure you expect (perhaps desperately WANT) me to spout off incendiary things. And I am tempted to: I’m totally disillusioned, I feel betrayed by computers, and on one hand: yes, I wrote hideous code for years. On the other hand: almost all code – IF NOT ALL CODE – is hideous!

“Sadly, this isn’t as incendiary as it sounds. Nothing can be incendiary or iconoclastic in the face of the Internet. There is no manifesto that I can write which will not be dwarved by the scalding, devouring Leviathan.

“I once thought the Internet was just a game, did you ever see it that way? But we all believe it too much. We really think it’s us up there! We’re those twinkling lights.”

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