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Say Everything

As younger people reveal their private lives on the Internet, the older generation looks on with alarm and misapprehension not seen since the early days of rock and roll. The future belongs to the uninhibited.


Find Kitty Ostapowicz on Livejournal, MySpace.com.  
(Photo: Alyson Aliano)

Yeah, I am naked on the Internet,” says Kitty Ostapowicz, laughing. “But I’ve always said I wouldn’t ever put up anything I wouldn’t want my mother to see.”

She hands me a Bud Lite. Kitty, 26, is a bartender at Kabin in the East Village, and she is frankly adorable, with bright-red hair, a button nose, and pretty features. She knows it, too: Kitty tells me that she used to participate in “ratings communities,” like “nonuglies,” where people would post photos to be judged by strangers. She has a MySpace page and a Livejournal. And she tells me that the Internet brought her to New York, when a friend she met in a chat room introduced her to his Website, which linked to his friends, one of whom was a photographer. Kitty posed for that photographer in Buffalo, where she grew up, then followed him to New York. “Pretty much just wanted a change,” she says. “A drastic, drastic change.”

Her Livejournal has gotten less personal over time, she tells me. At first it was “just a lot of day-to-day bullshit, quizzes and stuff,” but now she tries to “keep it concise to important events.” When I ask her how she thinks she’ll feel at 35, when her postings are a Google search away, she’s okay with that. “I’ll be proud!” she says. “It’s a documentation of my youth, in a way. Even if it’s just me, going back and Googling myself in 25 or 30 years. It’s my self—what I used to be, what I used to do.”

We settle up and I go home to search for Kitty’s profile. I’m expecting tame stuff: updates to friends, plus those blurry nudes. But, as it turns out, the photos we talked about (artistic shots of Kitty in bed or, in one picture, in a snowdrift, wearing stilettos) are the least revelatory thing I find. In posts tracing back to college, her story scrolls down my screen in raw and affecting detail: the death of her parents, her breakups, her insecurities, her ambitions. There are photos, but they are candid and unstylized, like a close-up of a tattoo of a butterfly, adjacent (explains the caption) to a bruise she got by bumping into the cash register. A recent entry encourages posters to share stories of sexual assault anonymously.

Some posts read like diary entries: “My period is way late, and I haven’t been laid in months, so I don’t know what the fuck is up.” There are bar anecdotes: “I had a weird guy last night come into work and tell me all about how if I were in the South Bronx, I’d be raped if I were lucky. It was totally unprovoked, and he told me all about my stupid generation and how he fought in Vietnam, and how today’s Navy and Marines are a bunch of pussies.” But the roughest material comes in her early posts, where she struggles with losing her parents. “I lost her four years ago today. A few hours ago to be precise,” she writes. “What may well be the worst day of my life.”

Talking to her the night before, I had liked Kitty: She was warm and funny and humble, despite the “nonuglies” business. But reading her Livejournal, I feel thrown off. Some of it makes me wince. Much of it is witty and insightful. Mainly, I feel bizarrely protective of her, someone I’ve met once—she seems so exposed. And that feeling makes me feel very, very old.

Because the truth is, at 26, Kitty is herself an old lady, in Internet terms. She left her teens several years before the revolution began in earnest: the forest of arms waving cell-phone cameras at concerts, the MySpace pages blinking pink neon revelations, Xanga and Sconex and YouTube and Lastnightsparty.com and Flickr and Facebook and del.icio.us and Wikipedia and especially, the ordinary, endless stream of daily documentation that is built into the life of anyone growing up today. You can see the evidence everywhere, from the rural 15-year-old who records videos for thousands of subscribers to the NYU students texting come-ons from beneath the bar. Even 9-year-olds have their own site, Club Penguin, to play games and plan parties. The change has rippled through pretty much every act of growing up. Go through your first big breakup and you may need to change your status on Facebook from “In a relationship” to “Single.” Everyone will see it on your “feed,” including your ex, and that’s part of the point.

HEY NINETEEN

It’s been a long time since there was a true generation gap, perhaps 50 years—you have to go back to the early years of rock and roll, when old people still talked about “jungle rhythms.” Everything associated with that music and its greasy, shaggy culture felt baffling and divisive, from the crude slang to the dirty thoughts it was rumored to trigger in little girls. That musical divide has all but disappeared. But in the past ten years, a new set of values has sneaked in to take its place, erecting another barrier between young and old. And as it did in the fifties, the older generation has responded with a disgusted, dismissive squawk. It goes something like this:

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