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The Quiet, Rare Voyeurism of Craigslist Mirror-For-Sale Ads

Remembering a more human time on the internet.
February 2, 2014, 2:05pm

Image: Craigslist

Here's something odd: at some point over the past five or so years, the internet ceased to be the voyeuristic wonderland once promised. Maybe it's just that we're all so used to it by now, but the thrill is gone, it seems. We don't spy on each other like we used to in social networking's early days, or at the very least we don't think of it as spying or being spied on. We don't find each other online in situ anymore probably because most of us have realigned our way of thinking about being online such that we approach the whole web presence thing as a complete performance just by default.

Think about it: back in the days of MySpace or even Friendster we didn't know how to perform for the internet yet, so we just were. And so we approached everyone else on the internet with about the same expectation: if you were to, say, look at someone's photos of themselves, there'd be some extra spark of revelation or, better, revelation where the other person isn't a pro yet at revealing themselves and maybe is thinking about those self-portraits less as something to share than as something available for viewing by interested parties. Which is different.

The social internet used to just be hallways and hallways of junk mirrors, angling everywhere and back in unpredictable ways. You could catch something unexpected about someone pretty easy. In a sense, passing reflections were just day to day business..

Now, we call pictures of ourselves posted to the internet selfies. When is the last time your posted a photo of yourself—just a photo of yourself—that wasn't a self-portrait? Can you imagine otherwise? It's hard. I actually have a lot, but I'm also old and have a few photographer friends.

That our online selves are nowadays almost entirely performative makes the whole situation a lot more boring. I don't really learn anything about people via social networking anymore, or I don't learning anything that isn't refined and sculpted for optimum social networking consumption. If you are not "old" (in internet terms, which is like 30), you'll probably just have to take my word for it that we used to spy on each other on the internet. And you'll have to take my word for it that it was also a really good time.

This bit of rant brings me to Craigslistmirrors, a Tumblr that is all about spying in the early days internet sense. It's not something that can be explained very well—"I search craigslist for photos of mirrors for sale and post them here" should suffice—but tour around the site for a while and just feel the humanization. We used to have that on the internet, like everywhere, albeit for not very long. We could watch and distribute our accidental selves, which by now we've scrubbed and scraped away, probably forever.