Off the grid

After discovering that a favorite physical therapist no longer worked at the clinic, I thought to myself “hey, no problem, I’ll find him online.” Except that I couldn’t: Google, Facebook, white pages, name misspellings… all my attempts failed. The fellow seemed to have no online presence at all. At first I was frustrated, then I laughed at myself. How quickly we become accustomed to the new reality — just fifteen years ago the Web didn’t exist.

The ability to ‘disappear’ and re-emerge elsewhere with a new identity is as old as history. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus returns home to Ithaka after 20 years and pretends to be a beggar: as no one recognized him, he could have remained so indefinitely. In the California Gold Rush, many men chose to leave their old lives behind, giving themselves new names and life stories. This was paralleled in the 1960s and 70s, notably by gay men escaping small towns for more tolerant cities such as New York and San Francisco.

Today, it is essentially impossible to disappear and move unnoticed to another state, another country, another continent. We can’t board an airplane without our ID. We can’t take our money because it’s all electronic and traceable. We can’t hide because everyone in the world has a TV and a cell phone camera.

So where did my physical therapist go? Darn!

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