There's something on the internet that you desperately want to keep everyone from seeing. Something you're deeply embarrassed of. That would show all your friends how you're not actually as smart and fashionable and ironically self-aware as you pretend to be. And you really ought to get over it.
We all have stuff like this. Maybe it's a gross Facebook album from university. Or a Xanga or Livejournal or Blogger account, or a dance you did, or an a cappella YouTube video. Or, god forbid, your dating profile. (Thanks again for that, Sam. Dick.)
So what's the underlying holdup we have about this stuff? On one hand, yes, yours are the same skeletons everyone else has tried to scrub from the web. But just the same, they leave you feeling impossibly exposed—especially ones where you really tapped into your feelings, like those old personal blog entries. And it's all kind of earnest for the way the internet works now, where you're required to maintain a constant ironic detachment. Which is true. But at some point, all that earnesty really betrays is that you're a human being with human feelings.
Still, it's a tough sell. I asked Gawker's advice maven and wonderful person Caity Weaver what she thought (while she was starving and all crazy, she asked us to specify), and she said, "Oh my God that is my greatest nightmare. People are vicious animals." But isn't everyone an awkward mess, and doesn't it just end up being endearing? "I meeeaannnn, I would not want that to happen to me, even with your sweet logic. I guess it depends how embarrassing. If your life was just boring, then enjoy your boring life, no one cares."
Point taken. But how boring is anyone's life, really? No one you know who's spent any amount of time on the internet—or really, any amount of time being a human being, because humanity is inherently sad and creepy and idiotic—is without humiliating memories. And the thing is, the entire internet, basically, has declared embarrassment bankruptcy. There's just too much stupid now, ours and the world's, to really shame you the way you feel you deserve.
That's relegated what at one time might have been life-scarring bungles into pieces of digital ephemera. Or actually, diluted the idea of embarrassment to the point that your polemic about how all these haters need to back the hell off of Travis Barker is basically the internet equivalent of those pictures your mom has of you when she used to dress you up like a baby duck whenever she took you to the mall, or that lip sync video she refuses to let die. You bristle when they're brought up, but ultimately, they're usually more fun than they are mortifying unless you're a huge closet racist.
Obviously, this doesn't include things that can actually cause material damage to you, your loved ones, or your career. Yes, you should probably do everything in your power to scrub the photo of you peeing in the break room coffee machine off of the net. And that Ashley Madison account is probably asking for trouble. And if you're committing crimes, it probably doesn't matter if you're found out online or off.
But that horrid Facebook picture your jerk friend Ashley keeps re-tagging you in where you have nine chins and the pallid complexion of a Se7en victim? Who cares. How do you possibly expect that to compete for your friends' internet mindspace when you're competing with assholes dunking their heads in buckets of urine and futuristic dong thongs?
So you can go on imagining your past being held up to the internet's magnifying glass as a total nightmare. But unless you were doing something especially anatomical with that Labradoodle, no one's going to be half as embarrassed for you as you are of yourself. So embrace it. Own it. No one likes the girl who's too cool to make funny faces in pictures.