Going Galt and Disappearing in the Age of Facebook

December 2nd, 2009

While you may be motivated to Go Galt, actually disappearing from today’s society may be tougher than you think.

Author Evan Ratliff tried to disappear, or Go Galt in a virtual sense. He offered a $5,000 bounty if anyone could locate him.

Starting August 15, I will try to stay hidden for 30 days. Not even my closest friends or my editors will know where I am. I’ll remain in the US and will be online regularly. I will continue to use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and I’ll make cell phone calls. I’ll generally stay in the kind of social environment I like to live in (no hiding in a cabin in Montana), and I’ll keep track of my pursuers, searching constantly for news about myself.

Check out Professor Desai’s summary, though you should read the entire article.:

And like the movies there were sides. In this case, teams formed to hunt Ratliff down and much smaller ones tried to help him (the details about how folks used technology to track and coordinate the hunt (down to finding out who is cat sitter was and contacting the sitter) while Ratliff used it to fool the hunters is another fun part of the story). An interesting point comes from the romantic quarter. I started with a emotional response that the author and others expressed. It would be nice to drop out of one’s life; escape for a bit. I like the idea that one might be able to reinvent one’s life. I also think that our society does a poor job of letting people claim a new beginning and instead embraces a Inspector Javert approach to identity. I rooted for Ratliff. I wanted to believe that if you really said let me alone, it could work. But, as I read on, something else became clear. Ratliff missed his social life. That sense of absence was heightened because of Facebook and Twitter. Insofar as we like some of our lives, we probably like the people in them. Furthermore, when Ratliff has a triumph, he laments that he cannot share it.

In short, the article shows how easy it is to track someone. It also shows that once the spotlight is off, a type of obscurity returns. The problem may be that the spotlight can be turned on all too easily.

So when you decide to Go Galt, plan your escape carefully, so the looters cannot find you, or your tweets. And my “JHNGALT” license plate probably does not help me a bit.  🙂