Internet gives immortality to low moments


POSTED: Monday, November 10, 2008

Artist Andy Warhol's prediction that “;everyone will be famous for 15 minutes”; has turned out to be an understatement in the Digital Age—try “;anything can be famous, for an indeterminate amount of time.”;

In fact, there's barely enough room in our retinas to record all the flashes in the pan.

Sneezing pandas. Joe the Plumber. Any given housewife who happens to be real and living in Orange County. Hypo allergenic pound puppies. Panda plumbers. Hypo allergenic housewives. Well, not those last two, but just wait. ...

And it would all be harmless-if-overexposed fun if “;all publicity was good publicity.”; Sadly, that idiom rings true only for people who pay publicists to tell it to them. Some recent cautionary tales:

» Last year, reported on some Farm Boy grocery store employees in Ottawa, Canada, who were fired for posting first-person accounts of their workdays on Facebook. Devon Bourgeois claimed he was fired for theft after uploading a post that his boss took literally, “;which it never was,”; he said.

I take him at his word. I searched for his O.J.-style “;If I Did It: Here's How I Put the Veal Cutlet Down My Pants”; almost-autobiography—nothing so far.

» Last week, the Boston Herald reported that New England Patriots cheerleader Caitlin Davis was ordered to turn in her pompoms after a Facebook photo showed her (Sharpie in hand) next to a sloshed Boston College dude whose body became a billboard for swastikas, etc., after passing out on a futon.

The photo is offensive on multiple levels. It might also break the Web-image world record for most stereotypes per pixel.

» Also last week, news services reported that University of Texas football player and self-proclaimed small-town boy Buck Burnette was kicked off the team after posting a racial call-to-arms about President-elect Barack Obama. According to screen grabs, his declaration began, “;All the hunters gather up ...”; and went downhill from there.

These rocketeers to infamy have several things in common. Each denies the infraction, or claims it was not originated by them. Each is early in his or her adulthood, or late in his or her arrested development. And each clearly has no idea how to calibrate the privacy settings on Facebook.

But most regrettably, Google each of their full names, and in each case their embarrassing episode is the first thing you'll see—even the forlorn grocer's dirty deed done two years ago.

Oh, sure, we can blame the victimizers. After all, young people like to think they'll live forever, so it could be just des erts if in fact, long after they're dust in the wind, the dumbest things they've ever done are etched into the Web with indelible binary code.

But let's be fair. Imagine the worst public humiliation you've ever experienced offline. Remember the look on the faces of those who witnessed it. Now imagine all of them standing on street corners with bull horns re-enacting your life's low point on an endless loop through infinity.

That's what it's like. When you put your foot in your mouth online—it never comes out again.


Reach Star-Bulletin columnist Curt Brandao and subscribe to the free “;digitalslobpod”; podcast at