When Mike Kuniavsky bought the Internet domain tired.com from a friend in November 1997, he wasn't planning to set up an anonymous confessional. He wasn't planning anything at all. At the time, Mike and I were both Web workers developing sites for the company that owned Wired magazine. "Tired" puns about Wired were de rigueur, so Mike grabbed tired.com for laughs.
While deciding what to do with his new domain, Mike typed a few lines of HTML as its home page. The site welcomed visitors with six words in a bland typewriter font: "Are you tired? Tell us why."
"It was a joke," Mike says. "I put it there on a lark as a placeholder." But he linked the word "us" to a nondescript e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org, that forwarded to his personal inbox.
The first e-mail arrived almost instantly, from an East Coast university where the time showed as 2:28 a.m.:
let me get this straight. you have a website about people being tired? hmmm...sounds sketchy. either you guys got too much time on your hands, or..something else. Anyhow, I got work to do.
Kuniavsky, who now makes a living as a user-experience consultant for the designers of Web sites and gadgets, hadn't realized that on some browsers, idly typing "tired" into the URL field and pressing return would automatically open www.tired.com. The minimalist page loads so quickly it catches surfers off-guard with its short, unexplained request. "Are you tired? Tell us why." Amazingly, people do.
The first message was followed by another 20 in the next 24 hours, and nearly 100 in the first week, a rate that's continued steadily for almost seven years, neither rising nor falling with the growth of the Net. To date, he's received more than 32,000 messages. Each one is personal, but most of the people who write in—like the underslept student who started it all—fall into one of a few familiar categories.
There's the overworked parent:
Because I work two jobs and have two kids. My husband is a 13 year old trapped in a thirty year old body. My sister lives with us and doesn't work or take care of herself. My kids are great, but between my other two jobs and this house I'm exhausted. I went to school as a single mom, finished high school with my son, finished college with him. I didn't get married until I graduated college, and I can't find a good paying job without relocating. You can't relocate without a good paying job. It's a vicious circle and it's eating me alive!
The world-weary teen, the site's fastest-growing demographic:
when you're a 16 year old girl who from the looks of things, doesnt have a single problem, people think you're strange and maybe even high. I am tired of counselors. tired of hearing about political and economical problems the world has. tired of being expected to put family before friends. SO tired of other females no matter what the age feeling as though every other woman is competition. Tired of my best friends mother jealous of her 16 year old daughter. This, my friend, is only the very tip of the iceberg.
And, of course, the guy who's had a few too many:
I'm sick and tired of all this homophobia shit.
When are we all just going to be people? WHEN?
Also I could get more sleep at night.
E-mails from .mil addresses abound, as America's ever more wired—and tired—troops go online to cope with cabin fever.
Tired of being in the navy and on a fucking ship in the middle of the god damn ocean with 400 of my not so closest friends who dont bathe as regular as normal folk should. Tired of my ugly little toe. Tired of wonderring why my bellybutton smells like cheese. Tired of masturbating into a pack of bologna. Tired of wondering what my man chowder tastes like and if I did taste it, would anyone think differently of me? Tired of you.
No one bothers to write in anonymously. Unlike Group Hug and other anonymous confession sites, which allow users to spill all without revealing their identities, messages to email@example.com are sent from the visitor's own e-mail client. Gripes about husbands, wives, children, and commanding officers come signed with the sender's real name and address. Mike doesn't reply to these messages, and he doesn't publish them, but how do they know he won't? One theory he's encountered in his user-experience work: People trust simply designed sites. Tired.com's plain-text, unadorned format seems soothing and trustworthy, particularly when compared to the garish, on-the-make look of most sites. A few visitors mistake it for a professional sleep-deprivation study and dutifully list their symptoms, perhaps in hopes of joining a clinical trial.
I have a different theory: The people who write in just haven't thought about the possible consequences. The few dozen e-mails Mike shared with me don't read like the artfully revealing posts of hip, ironic webheads who socialize online. They seem like missives from people with overbooked offline lives who happened to be plopped in front of a computer. On the Web, bloggers, the tell-all diarists of LiveJournal, and Paris Hilton and her ilk are constantly jostling for attention. By contrast, the stories people send Mike are as mundane and unembellished as his site's home page. Correspondents rarely confess to the sort of skanky, self-destructive behavior found on Group Hug ("I slept with someone I work with. He's married. I'm friends with his wife."). And why should they? There's no guilty thrill of public catharsis. Tired.com isn't another outlet for exhibitionists. It's an unexpected invitation to quietly complain about the same old same old to a stranger who might actually listen.