Webcams, sex, and the death of privacy.
Now the screen capture of Ravi's feed is all over the Internet. So is the screen capture of Clementi's forum messages. Below the messages, an administrator has written: "This could possibly be evidence in this whole sorry situation. Because of this I am locking this thread…" Somebody, presumably Ravi, has tried to delete his Twitter feed. Too late: It's already cached on Google.
One thing in this sorry tale can never be erased, and that's Clementi's suicide. He announced it—"jumping off the gw bridge sorry"—on Facebook. Near the bridge, police found his laptop and cell phone. Apparently, he used them to post the Facebook message. And then he jumped. It turned out that he wasn't a username, an avatar, or some random two-dimensional dude making out with another dude on a video feed. He was flesh and blood. His body hit the water. He died.
So here I sit, telling his story. I'm writing it from research files stored on a hard drive. But the hard drive isn't here in my office. It's in my wife's computer downstairs. Through a network, I can see most of what's on her machine. I'm there, even though I'm not. Next to her computer is a laptop with a built-in webcam. I didn't ask for the webcam, and it's never been activated, as far as I know. But I've never thought to check.
At Rutgers, students are acting like it's still the 1960s. On Wednesday, a bunch of them lay down in front of the student center to protest Clementi's death. Their leader said they were doing it for "all of those people, including Tyler, who have felt so alone." But what Clementi learned too late is that his feelings were mistaken. He wasn't alone. Neither are you.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.