Ghost Sites of the Web

Web 1.0 history, forgotten web celebrities, old web sites, commentary, and news by Steve Baldwin. Published erratically since 1996.

June 03, 2004

Am I Dead or Not?

An interesting article in today's New York Times explores the explosion of "Web sites that invite the world to rate personal appearance". (Note: access to the Times' Web site requires registration, which is free).

The article recounts its share of horrors - of people getting so drunk in the dead of night that they decide, against all known reason, to submit images of themselves to the Net's anonymous hordes of gang-raters, of people using services such as or to promote personal prostitution businesses, and the sad experience of one Angela MacRae, an overweight female ratee, whose overwhelmingly negative ratings from one site were, in her mind, offset by the fact that one or two raters dubbed her image "scrumptious".

Perhaps the most troubling comment in this article comes from a psychologist, who claims that the whole "hot or not" phenomenon is caused by a character flaw in today's generation of young Americans:

"I see this phenomenon as an extension of the narcissism that has become much more pervasive in our culture. I see it especially in the under-30 crowd, where there's this insatiable appetite for acknowledgment based largely on patterns in child-rearing that came along about the time of that generation."

Without attempting to answer the pointless question of "Who's Generation is Most Egotistical - the Boomers, Generation X, or Generation Z?", I will offer that narcissism is probably the most underrated force in the contemporary Web, and it's been here for a long time. Geocities, in other words, is an empire founded on nothing more than the desparate plea for attention from narcisstic children, and so is Blogger, and so, I suppose, is what you are reading here.

Ms. MacRae was clearly craving something like attention when she decided to post her pictures at many sites. She had a boyfriend, but he was seldom around. She felt trapped at home alone with three children, and in short order she was spending up to 10 hours a day corresponding through e-mail and an instant messaging service with people she met through the rating sites.

"I just wanted to talk with someone," she said.

As a society we are more connected, more aware, and our cerebrums are probably more engaged with the world than ever before, but we are also more desparately lonely, so lonely that we are willing to resort to all manners of humiliation in order to have our voices heard by strangers who are just out to get a few cruel jollies.

It will be interesting to see what MacRae's three toddlers, who had to grow up while their mother was IM'ing for 10 hours a day, will be like 30 years from now. Will they be capable of expressing anything other than narcisstic cravings themselves?

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