Saturday, November 28, 2009

Weekend Special: How to Disappear Completely

I subscribe to Wired magazine.  I get it for free.  I redeemed enough My Coke Rewards points for it a few months back.  Three issues ago, Wired 17.09, had a story about what it took to disappear in the digital age, or if it was even possible.  There were a few different stories of men who all tried to fake their deaths or vanish but were all eventually caught.

Then, that issue went on to say that a writer named Evan Ratliff would drop his known life for one month and try to relocate.  He wouldn’t cease to exist, but he would try to become someone else.  His old passions would still burn, but he would have to make new friends, etc.  The rules were pretty simple: Evan would create a new identity, one who would want to live the same lifestyle, just in a different place with a different name.  In other words, he wouldn’t just head to a cabin in the woods for a month, he would try to recreate his life.  Wired had a contest that if someone could locate Evan and say a password—“fluke”—to him, then they would win $5k.  If no one found him, Evan would get $3k. 

This past issue of Wired, 17.12, followed up on that story.  The entire article is available here if you want to read it.  I found it fascinating.  Partially because so many people were looking for Evan, from private investigators to college students.  Partially because of the amazing capabilities of the internet.  And partially because I wanted to know if he succeeded.

I don’t want to ruin it for you, so I won’t say whether or not he was found within that month.  I burned through the pages with growing wonder at his life.  He did not tell anyone, his girlfriend or parents, his plans.  On August 13, he vanished.

His plan was well thought out and intricate.  His journal entries were mesmerizing.  He mused that he’d always been a loner, but this was something completely different.  He knew no one where he was.  He had no ID, no job, no friends, nothing familiar.

This article had me thinking a lot about the implications of starting over a new life.  I cannot imagine how difficult it would be.  Keeping up the lie would be tolling on the psyche I would think.  While going completely off the grid would likely ensure victory, that would miss the point of the exercise.  What good what it be to start over but not do the things you loved?  To me, that seems like dying, as doing what we love (and like) is what it is to live.

If you’ve got some time, I recommend you reading the linked articles above, especially the second.  The first one discusses the implications and limitations of disappearing.  The second one tells Evan’s journey.  Again, it’s fascinating, if that sort of thing intrigues you.  Share your thoughts about this, if you have any.


Bilski said...

How is the print version, Logan? I subscribe to the web version and the editing and overall quality of the articles tends to be somewhat lacking.

Definitely an interesting idea, this challenge of theirs. I look forward to finding out the results

David Wagner said...

Another excellent recommendation, thanks Logan.

Shellie (Layers of Thought) said...

Very interesting....
A couple of years ago I read this book How to be Invisible -
Funny thing is that it was a library book and It got wet. So I had to buy them a new one. So I have a copy. Who knows when your going to need it.
I'm off to read the article.

logankstewart said...

@Bill: The actual magazine version is great with the editing. I've never noticed any problems in any of the articles I've read.

@David: Thank you, and you're welcome.

@Shellie: You should've returned the book and told the library that it was hiding, and that you learned how to make it invisible by reading the book. Hope you enjoyed the article.