Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

Don’t Oggle My Lap(top)!

Oi, no peaking

So I’m standing to go after one of my grad classes ends and this girl behind me says,

“You know, sitting behind you, I really feel like I’ve gotten to know you.”

Nonplussed I wait.

“Like, you like gelato right?

Then it dawns on me. She has been reading off of my laptop. Over the past couple of weeks I have been updating my facebook status with statements that include the word, “gelato.” Now, I have a 17″ screen, so I expect people behind me to know what I’m doing–notes, e-mail, looking at wooster. I myself am guilty of looking at other people’s screens to see what they’ve got going (in most of my classes it’s a veritable ocean of Mactops). But I have NEVER looked hard enough to read someone’s facebook status. It made me wonder what else she had read . . .

I had no witty comeback. I just gaped until she left, awkwardly. Then it hit me. Two days before in that same class, this tall guy with long hair–and his own laptop–sits beside me and then leans over and stares at my screen . . . for minutes at a time . . . on and off for the whole two hours. He didn’t even get the message when I firmly turned my computer 15 degrees away from him. It got to the point that when I googled a website the teacher referenced, he put his finger on my screen to indicate which search result I should click.

What is going on? Is this normal etiquette now? Can I just waltz into a class and consider that all 50 computers are at my disposal? Can I make friends by reading your e-mail or putting my greasy fingers on your new glossy Macbook? Am I crazy for letting this freak me out? We need guidelines, and we need them now. Let me ask it à la Bradshaw: When it comes to personal computing, how much belongs to the public?


  1. In the hyperreal there is no ‘the private.’ Personal space doesn’t exist once you get into the internets–space doesn’t exist for that matter–so, as we draw the those internets more and more into the semblance of the real that we have left around us, space keeps collapsing. Your friend who sits next to you, as long as you both have your computers open, you’re ghosts to one another, occupying each others space. Since there’s no ‘other’ present, its only self touching when he puts his finger on your screen.

  2. I was there when that happened and I couldn’t believe she was actually admitting that she spied on you. And actually touching your computer? FAUX PAS! I think people are learning how to deal with laptops in the classroom–just like some people are still learning cell phone etiquette. The phenomenon of so many laptops in the classroom is relatively new, and people are still figuring out the etiquette. There aren’t enough unspoken rules yet. Hopefully people will catch on soon: my computer is not a textbook!

  3. While I agree with you that people have lost their sense of propriety when it comes to privacy in general I’m not sure we can be suprised or even infuriated. Sitting on our laptops in public is the equivalent to talking on the phone in public. The information is out there, the amount of information a person(snoop) wants to listen to and pick up is up to them.
    And the internet has become the new identity. It’s like our clothes, or the books we read. It IS the new music we listen to. Blogs we read, sites we visit: Those all tell people about us. And it’s normal for people to try and size us up. Perhaps I was wrong with my initial statement, maybe people still snoop as much as they ever did, just in a new medium.

  4. This does open up room for a thinking of spacespacesspacing . . . Many claim that the irony of “space age” technology is that it leads to the collapse of ( ) space, that computers and TV and biogenetics contribute to the hegemony of hyperreality–a non-place with no shadows, white noise. Let us go with this flow.

    Rekonstruct claims that “In the hyperreal there is no ‘the private.’Personal space doesn’t exist once you get into the internets . . .” This statement immediately (already) opens up a negative space through an omission, or rather an assumption: that in the hyperreality of the internets,’the private’ gives way to something other, ‘the public.’

    Or perhaps he would object, and say that there is no public in the hyperreal either. Or perhaps the we should invert our selves and say that the hyperreal turns ‘the public’ private. Or perhaps we need something new (and this must come from beyond the hyperreal). Perhaps we need Neo.

    Perhaps when the “ghost” touched my screen, he touched the matrix version of my “self.” Or . . . perhaps my physical body is the screen and I am relying on you, on all of “this” to shine on me, so I don’t sit lost in shadows.

  5. Google “3M privacy filter” and order one.

  6. Is sitting on my laptop in public reallythe same thing as talking on the phone in public? I mean, when I’m on the phone I know people can hear me, and I’m consenting to that. Looking at my laptop seems more similar to reading a book or looking at a magazine. When I see others on their laptops, I react the same way I would if they were reading the newspaper. I might sneak a glance, but I definitely don’t want to get caught snooping. I agree that a laptop is just a new medium in the mix. I hope it’s just a matter of time before people realize this.

  7. Thanks Sparky. I had no idea this existed!

  8. A preclusion of the private doesn’t mean that the hyperreal is public. I think its something more like your ‘publicprivate.’ It’s neither public or private once the two have interpenetrated one another. I’ve been piggybacking B-lard for a while now, but I like his category of the Integral Real. Once the two have been integrated, we’re in the realm of annihilation rather than dialectic. (Or maybe dialectic always was annihilation.)

    Finally, the notion that there is no space in the internets is both literal and figurative. Our screen reality is rendered: depending on whether or not its solid state or magnetic our space is either a redistribution (an ordering) of electromagnetic pulse, or it’s written on a HD somewhere. In that sense, there is a somewhere that our space is stored, but it’s inconsistent until we count it. Figuratively, I don’t extend–“I” insofar as our “I” is a representation of a physical subject–into the space where my data enters. I’m not in there. I’m not here in this comment, I’m somewhere in the Pac NW. And yet, a ghost of me, a memory, a rendering, is preserved on a server that directs the you that enters the internets to Happy Mortal where we interact in text. This preservation and representation of an author is a breach in reality that we are accustomed to because of books, but it has been increased–as the hyperreal always increases–toward an infinite dissemination with the storage and rendering of digital information. Thus we have two ideas collapsing into each other as they are integrated: infinite dissemination and the no space of the internets.