Well, 2016 has come and gone and it has been filled with some ups, and a lot of downs.

Here at The NYRD we have been hearing a lot about this “social media” thing that has been sweeping the world wide web, and decided, “Golly gee, maybe we should check that out.” So we thought it would be fun to post this year’s events as a typical Facebook feed, and quite frankly we are amazed no one has ever thought of doing this before… ever.

In doing so, we have to come to realize that this “Facebook” thing is truly the wave of the future. Unfortunately, we also quickly realized that we created one of the most depressing thing to appear on your Facebook feed since your Uncle Elliot started his vlog. Yet, without further adieu, we give you 2016, in Facebook form.


Happy New Year, everybody. We will be back in 2017.



Up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It doesn’t matter, because we ask that you look across the street to the office building and watch one intrepid reporter click-clacking away at her computer. Yes, the world needs Superman, but now more than ever the world needs people like Lois Lane. The world needs good journalism and we’re not just talking about fancy news reporters working away in their low-paying jobs. No, we’re talking about everyone, because we are the ones who are failing in our understanding of what journalism really is. We may not be able to fact check faster than a speeding bullet or be less biased than a locomotive. We may not even be able to leap tall logical fallacies in a single bound, but we have to try. Journalism is not a passive process and somewhere along the way we have forgotten that. So let us remind you what it means to participate in a process that keeps our democracy free.

Questions of Steel
There is one thing that every journalist has in common, well make that five or six things. When writing a story every reporter, whether they work in Smallville or Metropolis need to keep a few key questions in mind: Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How. On the surface these questions might seem pretty basic, but think about how important they are in conveying information. Where did the event take place?… In Lex Luthor’s penthouse apartment. What happened?… A doomsday laser was fired at the moon but stopped at the last minute. Who was involved?… Superman and Lex Luthor. When did it happen?… Last night. How did it happen?… Lex Luthor constructed the machine and used it. Why did it happen?… Good question.

You see these basic questions will not always have answers or most-likely they will have very complicated answers that may require some lengthy explaining or additional research. However, these are the basic questions that every journalist needs to keep in mind when writing or reading a piece. Yes, we said reading, because remember -and we can’t stress this enough- JOURNALISM IS NOT A PASSIVE PROCESS. Everyone is a journalist in one form or another. You may never win a Pulitzer or even put a sentence to a page, but you still have a responsibility in the world of journalism. If you read the news or engage with articles online you have to always be asking yourself: Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How, as you read the article. You need to identify the essential questions of anything you read, because if you can’t or if you find an unsatisfactory answer it is your job to do further follow-up. Something might be rotten in the Daily Planet, but if you are not actively being aware of the core information being relayed to you, you might miss it.

Now, larger “think pieces” or “interest pieces” such as what we do here at The NYRD will not always cover all those questions. We try to, but the nature of the things we write about doesn’t always allow us to cover the When or Where or sometimes even the Who of certain pieces, but it also worth arguing that in journalism those are not always the most important questions. In fact, the biggest question every person needs to keep in mind is the “Y” of an article. In journalism there is an unspoken why, which we like to abbreviate down to the “Y” of a story. This is the bigger “why.” It is not the “why did the events of this story happened,” but the “why is this story being told?” Is it informative? Is it entertaining? Is it persuasive? This unspoken why is essential to the practice of journalism, especially in today’s modern age. This seventh question helps us interpret the intent and the execution of news articles, and -especially- online pieces -like what we do here at The NYRD.  That is why the burden of this question lies heaviest on the reader’s shoulders.

Lois Lane is a good reporter, but much like her husband, Superman, she can’t do it alone. We’ll say it again: Journalism is not a passive process. You, the reader, need to keep this unspoken seventh question -the “Y” of whatever you read- always in your mind. To do so, you need to be able to do some critical thinking and even fact checking. Good news: That is easier than it has even been, thanks to the Internet. If something is too ridiculous to be true or too infuriating to seem believable, then question it. Many times the “Y”of a story might be simple and dull. The police blotter in your local paper, for instance, will tell you the arrests that happened that week because as the citizens in a community you have a right to know what goes on there. However, the “Y” might also be something more sinister. Propaganda is the extreme side of this spectrum, where false news is reported in order to influence the populace to think or act in certain ways. More Importantly, remember that news does not always have to false to be misleading or even an outright lie.

The Bias of Kryptonite
Another thing that good journalists try to avoid is “bias.” That is the evidence or appearance of a journalist having ulterior motives in a story or slanting the narrative in one party’s favor over another’s. It’s a pretty straightforward concept, and most people assume they understand it, which is also why so many people -and at least one President-Elect- get it wrong. It turns out most people are actually are very bad at identifying bias, mostly because they fail to recognize that bias is unavoidable. Professional journalists understand that bias cannot be avoided. That is why when they talk about it they talk in terms of managing it. After all, we are humans and whether it be through the use of subtle adjectives or even paragraph construction bias will always exist in our endeavors. That is something all the Citizen-Lois-Lanes out there need to recognize. So let’s start by breaking down how to identify the slant of a news stories.

Managing bias needs to start with accuracy, because the most common form of bias in journalism happens unknowingly Often it is accomplished through omission or misplaced weight on shaky sources. The best way to think about the reliability of news sources is called the Protess Method. Basically, picture it like a giant target with three rings.

  • The outer ring -or the least reliable source of information- is secondary sources. This is when Lois Lane quotes a fact from another print news organization or publication. For instance, when writing a story on Lex Luthor’s corruption she may quote a fact from the Gotham Gazette, which is usually a fairly reliable source of news. The problem is that unless the Daily Planet researches where the Gazette got their information there is potential for the propagation of misleading facts, or even simply misquoting how those facts were used in the first place. -It is also worth noting that this is the primary type of the source material that we here at The NYRD rely on, though we try to find corroborating accounts from multiple sites-
  • The middle ring is related to primary source documents. These are court transcripts, senate bills, and other documents generated by an official organization that is part of the story being handled. Thus, the official police report detailing the arrest of Lex Luthor is considered a more reliable source than the article about the incident from the Gotham Gazette.
  • The center ring is comprised of interviews with people directly involved with the story, such as witnesses, lawyers, police, superheroes, etc. If Lois Lane gets a quote about the arrest from Superman -who was at the scene at the time- than we generally take that as a more accurate source than the police reports.

You may say that eye witness testimony is not always the most reliable, and you would be right. That is also why you need multiple corroborating sources. You see, the number of sources that corroborate each other gives weight to the information, regardless of its place in the Protess Method. One shaky eye witness whose interview is completely negated by multiple other sources is probably unreliable. It is often best to get multiple sources from multiple rings, court documents, eye witness testimony, etc. Regardless, it is a journalists’ duty to find the best and most accurate sources of information before going to print with a piece. That means it is a reader’s duty to identify and gauge the accuracy of sources being presented in a news story. Check to find corroborating evidence? Evaluate if shaky sources are being presented as solid fact.

As we said before, bias is part and parcel of the package. In fact, some news source purposely bias themselves in one direction or another. This is often done to garner ratings, outrage, political favor, or even out of pure self interest. That is also why it is so important for us, the readers, to do our best to be aware of the slant of the new organizations that are supplying us with our information. For instance, the Luthor News Network is not going to be very non-partisan on the arrest of Lex Luthor, but that example is easy to spot. The real problem comes when the Metropolis Times is owned by Rocket LLC, which is actually a subsidiary of Luthor Corp. Funding is a powerful conflicting force, especially in journalism. In our world, sites like Breitbart or even Slate know they can garner more clicks and more advertisements if they stoke the fires of outrage and lure in more readers with click-bait headlines. That is why you, as the reader, need to understand where a news piece is coming from, as well as what it is saying.

These are two titles for the same video. Note the sources.
These are two titles for the same video. How does each influence you to feel?

The Last Son of a Dying Business
Journalism is not a passive process, but it also an essential process to a free and vibrant democracy. The press is called the fourth pillar of our government. It is the check and balance against the corruption of our system, and it is the pillar that relies heaviest on us, the people. Participating in democracy means participating in journalism, and that means you have a responsibility. You cannot take anything you read -especially on the Internet- at face value. Thankfully, there are a lot of non-partisan sources that can help you distinguish between fact and fiction. However, you have to be able to open your eyes to what you at reading so that you can question the assumptions being made, not only in the article, but the assumptions that you might already hold. As a citizen journalist you need to ask that “Y” of everything. “Y” is this news source reporting on this? “Y” are they writing it the way they are writing? “Y” did this particular piece show up on your news feed? Could it have been written from another angle? How accurate is the information? We know that all this sounds exhausting, but after this last election it is more vital than ever.

So as we admire the Man of Steel, let us not forget Lois Lane, and maybe we can all be a little more like her too. Superman may be able to punch a comet out the sky, but he cannot save you from your own bias or the slanted news reporting. Only you can do that, because when it comes to journalism, fact checking and questioning are burdens we all bear. After an article is published, or an interest piece, or even a sports blurb in your local high school paper, you have a responsibility to question it, because nobody will do it for you.


We made a promise to ourselves that we were done writing about election-related issues, but much like our electoral college, promises were apparently made to be broken. -Oh, sick civics burn- Yet, if this election has proved one thing it is that we know nothing about how the other half of the country works, lives, or even what starting Pokemon they would choose. We believed that the Internet was going to open up the world and expose us to people from all around with different lives, opinions, and thoughts, but it’s quite the opposite. The Internet has only become a maddening bubble of echoes where our own opinions are shouted back at us, except in a deeper voice and sometimes in the form of a Kermit meme. So how did it get this way, and how do we stop?

Identifying Your Bubble
We realize that because of the very nature of the Internet, your Google search algorithms, custom advertising, the history of articles you have previously “shared” or “liked,” and because of Benedict Cumberbatch many of you will never even see this article, let alone read it. However, that is kind of the point we are making here. In small and large ways, we are all trapped in a bubble, and your first instinct may be to respond, “No, I’m not.” Well, than you are in the biggest bubble of all, Self-Denial. It is the nature of humanity and our genetic disposition toward tribal instincts that make us we naturally gravitate to those we find similiar, whether those groups be based upon ethnicity, politics, sports teams, or even Star Trek captains. -Picard 2020-

It is also worth mentioning a bubble is not necessarily bad. They do serve a purpose, giving us a sense of community and a space to feel connected and safe among those of our own kind. It’s basically, the Comic Con factor. Dressing up as Link and Zelda in almost any other context would be weird and confusing, but in the convention hall it so common that no one looks at you twice. Moderate bubblization is fine until we take it too far. For example, Giants or Yankees’s fans having a good natured rivalry with Cowboys or Red Sox fans is all part of the experience, until it turns into a brawl. If we become closed off to the opinions and experiences of those of other or opposing sides than we start to move into bad territory, and now, thanks to the advent of the Internet, we never have to hear another person’s opposing opinion again, if we so choose.

Yet, when bubblization is at its most extreme, that is precisely the time we need to take a step back and evaluate our own place and our own bubble(s). You see, our bubbles are more live Venn Diagrams than complete encompassing circles. We all belong to a variety of different bubbles and some are stronger than others. We might be Trekkies, or Republicans, or African Americans, or tax attorneys, or all of them all rolled into one. Each bubble that surrounds us will have a varying degree of strength and elasticity. One bubble may be mutually exclusive to another, but probably not as often as you might think. It is our job as caring and thinking humans beings to take stock of ourselves and not only start seeing the bubbles we live in, but how big or strong they are. We need to recognize where we live, what we do, what we believe in, and how we live our lives. These factors all help us build our worlds and our world views.

The real concern is when our bubbles become part of us. As humans preconditioned with tribal nature, we can sometimes confuse the bubble that surrounds us with our own skin. This happens when we feel as if we derive self-worth or importance from that flimsy soapy encasement. This is also what happens so often in politics. People begin to identify so strong with the labels of Democrat or Republican; or Liberal or Conservative that we lose sight of the smaller picture. We all share the human bubble, but thanks to our other bubbles no one man or woman among us will ever truly be the same as another. That means a candidate or a party will never fully embody everything we believe in, but if your political bubble is too strong -if you make it part of your self-identity- than you will face more than a few challenges. Not only will you need to find ways to ignore or integrate viewpoints and beliefs that you don’t normally hold, but you will intimately feel every little poke and prick that tries to to pierce your bubble’s exterior. That is the difference between laughing something off and starting a soccer riot.

Stepping Outside
Let’s be truthful here. You are never going to fully step outside your bubble, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a walk every now and then and get some fresh air. Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it,” and that is something worth remembering. Putting yourself in others’ shoes helps in almost any situation. Trying -really trying- to see an argument from your opponent’s viewpoint not only lets you gain a better understand of their side of an argument but also your own. Now, we know that is easier said than done, especially when it comes to entrenched topics like politics. So our advice is: start small.

Don’t tackle an entire political landscape or doctrine all at once. Look at it in small parts and try to think about how and why people might support small positions. Is it out of fear or hope? Is it our of anger or laziness or joy or ignorance or what? And… this is important… don’t make a judgement. You have to be able to see what other people think without superimposing your own views and judgements on top of them. We know that is probably the most difficult thing anyone can do. We won’t lie, you will probably fail more times than you succeed, but for this exercise there is as much value to be found in the attempt as their is in success. Being able to stretch your mind to see the world as someone different is a great way to gain a wider perspective. In fact, it is a lot like traveling. You can never fully understand Hong Kong, Johannesburg, or even Cincinnati until you have seen them and experienced them for yourself. In the end, you may not want to live there, but you will be enriched for the attempt.

Usually the best way to do this is to ask questions and to listen. People want to explain their point of view and they want to do it to a person who is willing to hear them out. Let them explain their position and then ask genuine and thoughtful questions about it. Try to learn why that person believes what they do. Piercing your own bubble is about gaining a greater understanding of opposing viewpoints and a greater appreciation for those that hold them. Often a person’s perspective is shaped as much by their circumstances and their environmental factors as it is by their own intelligence and emotions. Thus, making a effort to understand why a person believes something is as much about understanding them as individuals as it is about acknowledging their ideas.

Lastly, just because you entertain a different idea does not mean you have to accept it. It is okay to examine an idea or a doctrine that is completely opposite and still come back with the conclusion that you were right all along. For instance, you may try to understand why some people think The Force Awakens was not a completely hackneyed attempt to rehash A New Hope, but that does not mean those people are right. In fact, being right or wrong is not actually what this exercise is about. It is about building bridges and understanding. You may never believe that JJ Abrams is nothing more than someone out to ruin your favorite space-themed franchises, but that should not stop you from meeting those who -incorrectly- think otherwise.

Don’t Make it Personal
Perhaps most importantly, you need to show other people respect. The only way you will ever expand your view and the view of others is to have conversations with those that disagree with you. Yet, you can’t make it personal. You can argue with someone about their ideas of policy or their opinions on the news of the day, but when things degenerate into: “You’re a filthy and ignorant liberal…” or “You’re a racist…” or “you’re a Nazi…” then the argument breaks down into petty name calling. You will have failed. All name-calling does is force people to retreat back to their own bubble and close off to what you are saying. Personal attacks don’t work. They are the last refuge of the ill-informed and the frustrated.

Engaging someone with a different view is a two way street. You will say things that will make them upset and they will do the same to you, but for the process of breaking out of your own bubble that is necessary. It is like getting a tooth drilled or a cast set. There will be discomfort, there may even be some pain, but it is how the healing begins. Always remember to treat each other with respect and to try and understand where the other person is coming from. You may not convince anyone. Actually, you almost certainly will never convince anyone no matter how many sources or logical ideas you bring to the table, but there is purpose in the effort. When we stop reaching out, when we stop reaching across to those who think differently, than that is when we wake in a country that cannot be fixed.

It doesn’t matter who the damn President is. It doesn’t matter what the people in Washington say or what they do. America is not a country built by rulers. It is a country built by people, and as long as we make the effort to break out of our little Internet shells and engage others thoughtfully and respectably, than this world will get better. You also shouldn’t be afraid to have your mind changed, because growing and gaining new understandings of the world around you is not a betrayal of who you are. It is a sign that you are living a vibrant and well-examined life.

For homework:

  1. Identify your bubbles;
  2. Read something from a news source* that does not necessarily reflect your worldview;
  3. Engage with someone who does not normally agree with you; and
  4. Keep an open mind.

*Conservative Reading to Consider                                                                *Liberal Reading to Consider
National Review                                                                                                – Washington Post
The Wall Street Journal                                                                                   – BuzzFeed
The American Spectator                                                                                  – The Atlantic
The Weekly Standard                                                                                       – Slate

This past week, the nerd community saw the release of one of the most anticipated trailers of the year, Star Wars Episode VII. Unfortunately, almost immediately afterwards we also saw some Twitter trolls start the offensive hashtag: BoycottStarWarsVII. The campaign was supposedly created to stop Star Wars from pushing a evil multicultural agenda of tolerance and acceptance, because there are some people out there who just aren’t fans of Lando Calrissian, or nuanced and informed discussion. Those people are morons, but in a world where important conversations about identity, gender, and racial divides are conducted with hashtags, at least they have given us this opportunity to have a dialogue about multiculturalism in geekdom. A big part of the problem is the way that people of diverse -and especially African American backgrounds- are not always perceived as being stereotypically nerdy, but nothing could further from the truth.

Missing the Target with Stormtroopers
Let’s face it. The outrage over a black stormtrooper or the outrage over a multicultural Star Wars cast is completely ridiculous. It is the same kind of outrage we saw over the casting of Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch, the creation of Miles Morales, or any one of a thousands or so similar incidents. It is possible that sometimes nerds don’t mean to be racist, and they get so caught up in canonical in-fighting that they fail to realize what they are doing. It is also possible some people are just terribly ignorant.

However, the nerd community does not share the fault alone, as the media does not do a good job of embracing the idea of a black-nerd, or “blerd.” When Hollywood thinks of geeks, they think male, white, Asian, or even Indian. -Basically the cast of the Big Bang.- Welcome to the struggle of the blerd, but why is that the case? There have been plenty of famous black nerds, Raj in What’s Happening, Carlton in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and of course Steve “I am the goddamn nerd king” Urkel in Family Matters. Yet, Hollywood and geekdom in general still struggle with casting African American leads in science fiction, fantasy, and comic entertainment, partially because they fear the choice will put off those big juicy, money-spending, white male, geek crowds. Worse yet, when they finally do buckle and add a little variety, it is the members of that very same nerd community who are the first to rage or completely disregard such casting choices as nothing more than “political correctness,” and that has a lot do with our collective cultural stereotypes of the black community in general.

For this article, we are not looking to get into the complexities of black culture or how the media and white culture perceives black culture, or how black culture may perceive itself through the mirrored lens of the media. Mostly, because we don’t have the time, historical perspective, or proper doctoral degrees to really do the subject any justice. For now, let’s just say that living up to the media’s standards of being black in America means you often find yourself stuck along very rigid stereotype lines, and very few of the prescribed roles that the media assigns to African Americans involves being nerdy.

The Trials of Mace Windu
When a black character gets portrayed it is often along certain stock-lines such as a sports star, a rapper, or the bad ass. We love Mace Windu as one of the only good things about the prequels but he has an undeniable Samuel L. Jackson quality about him. Now that is not a bad thing, but not every black Jedi needs to be Shaft with a lightsaber. Why couldn’t Qui Gon Jinn or any other Jedi have been black too? Why do we only seem to get one representation at a time? By portraying African Americans so heavily along the roles of gang members, criminals, and even “the cool one” the media helps create the perception that these are really the only acceptable things young black men or women can be. So for years, the very idea of the black comic book nerd or the black science fiction nerd was forgotten. We’re not saying that they didn’t exist, just that they were not made visible by Hollywood for the viewing audience at large. In fact, when blerds were portrayed at all, many perceived those characters as “acting white,” because smart and uncool have not been the standard labels for young African Americans. So whenever we got the black nerd character, he was only ever portrayed as the person who was rejected by the show’s wider community. Both Carlton and Urkel started as comparison characters to the show’s “cooler” characters. In other words, they were not the characters that were “normal” or worth emulating. Even if they did eventually become some of the most popular characters on their respected shows.

Thankfully that perception is changing, slowly but surely. When you really open your eyes and take notice you see blerds everywhere, and it is amazing. People like Aisha Tyler, Damon Waynes Jr., Donald Glover and Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson have come to epitomize what it means to be black and nerdy. Characters such as Turk from Scrubs, Toofer from 30 Rock, Gus from Psych, and Troy from Community, helped to put forth new roles for African American nerds in Hollywood, even if their shows are now all canceled. No longer are these characters the punching bag or the annoying friend. They are funny, smart, and fun to be around. In the past decade it has started to become cool to like cartoons, comics, sci-fi,.and be a little weird. That has helped the blerd gain some prominence, but unfortunately even with these positive role models, studios, social media, and geekdom at large, still hesitate and debate over the merits of casting African Americans in starring roles.

Will Smith may have starred in Men in Black, Laurence Fishburne may have played Morpheus, Samuel L. Jackson may be Nick Fury, but the minute you cast an African American actor as a stormtrooper the Internet breaks. People will point to characters like Falcon, Zoe Washburne, Static Shock, Black Panther, Uhura, or Captain Benjamin Sisko as example of diversity in geekdom, and they would be right. However, those characters are just a good start, and not a justification for why we need an all white cast for Episode VII. Being a nerd should be about including all people and most importantly giving everyone a hero they can look up to and say, “He/she is like me. I can be a hero, a Jedi, a stormtrooper, a Galactic senator, or whatever I want to be,” because that has always been the magic and importance of our shared nerd heritage.

Gambling on Lando Calrissian
Many people will inevitably wonder why we need a separate label for a black nerd. Those will be the same people who will wonder aloud why February is Black History Month, or why “only” Black Lives Matter? What those people need to understand is that saying that Black Lives Matter is not the same as saying only black lives matter. It is a reminder that black lives matter too. Similarly, giving one the label of blerd does not mean they are separate from other nerds. As a race and as a minority African Americans have been poorly under-represented, or worst yet represented poorly through the lens of media stereotypes. The blerd label -much like the Black Lives Matters campaign- is way to remind us that African Americans are not just two-dimensional stereotypes. They are humans who are entitled to life, hopes, dreams, and the freedoms to swing a stick around their head and make lightsaber noises. We all need to remember that nerds and people come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors, and they all deserve respect.

Hollywood forgets that sometimes. It is easier to typecast people in certain roles, because it is accepted by the culture at large. Thus the fanboy backlash from casting an African American in a previously white role may sometimes force studios to temper otherwise multicultural and innovative choices. However, as easy as it would be to blame the media for the lack of ethnic diversity in the movies we love so much, it is not entirely their fault. They are far from perfect in fostering equal casting opportunities, but it starts with us, the fan community. As a famous leader once said. “The change you wish to see in the world, you must be, hmm.” Acceptance and equality start with each of us.

Blerd Lives Matter because all nerd lives and loves matter, regardless of color or creed. We need to encourage more diversity in our movies, television shows, comics, literature, and lives. As a community, we geeks and nerds need to start demanding a fair balance of positive racial representation, and more importantly we need to stop raging every time Hollywood makes a stormtrooper black. -It is a perfectly conical choice.- There will always be people out there with poorly conceived hashtags because they are filled with bigotry. Yet we cannot let them be the voice for our larger community. Geekdom is full of great and accepting people, and we have to make sure that the only minority we disregard is the minority of people who want to do nothing more than spread their message of fear, because that leads to anger, which leads to hate, which leads to a darker-side for us all.

We can all picture the iconic scene of when Clark Kent takes off his glasses or when Peter Parker puts on his mask. Secret identities are a part of superhero lore, as much as capes and snappy one-liners, but is the concept of a dual-life quickly becoming something that is too fantastic to believe, even for stories about men who can fly?

In a modern era where, according to a 2014 Pew Research survey, 58% of all adults 18 and older are on Facebook and 87% of all Internet users between the ages of 18 and 29 use Facebook, is the concept of keeping anything secret becoming as outdated as the concept of the Daily Planet? After all, you can look up any two words on the Internet and get some kind of hit. How hard would it be to Google “Peter Parker” and “Spider-Man” and have two-thousand entries appear? He is always taking all those pictures. Even worse, the majority of people in 2015 would probably scoff at the idea that organizations like the CIA or SHIELD would have no idea of the links between heroes and their civilian counterparts. How long would it take the NSA to trace the search history of “How to build a web-shooter?”

Nick Fury is Watching
Thanks in no small part to Edward Snowden we know that organizations like the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ have been logging the Internet searches, keystrokes, text messages, and phone calls of literally millions of people around the world. According to the NSA’s own April 2013 slideshow for their PRISM program, the government surveillance organization had been collecting data including emails, chats, videos, photos, file transfers and more, from major providers including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, and others. Though much of the activity was aimed at foreign communications using American telecommunication networks the truth is that there is no real way to decipher the emails of American citizens versus foreign extremists. Yet, despite the epic level of this Lex Luthor-esque system of surveillance, perhaps, even scarier was the fact that that these 1,984 violations barely registered a low roar of surprise from the American populace. Maybe it is because the evidence only verified everyone’s already suspected fears, we have no more secrets.

Another Pew Research study found that only 42% of Americans were willing to discuss the topics of the Snowden-NSA story on Facebook or Twitter, despite the fact that 80% of American adults agree or strongly agree that we should be concerned about the government monitoring phone calls and Internet conversations. The kind of picture that these types of statistics paint is of a population who fears speaking out of turn on the Internet, because Big Brother might be watching. This also comes from people who openly share their food, workout habits, and embarrassing drunk pictures. Maybe we have no true expectation of online privacy, either from the government and from one another. Maybe we willingly gave it up in the name of convenience and ego. After all, federal organizations are not the only ones collecting data on us.

Lex Luthor is Watching
Major corporations from Google to Walmart are following our digital footprints in order to better target their marketing. Companies use behavioral tracking in order to promote their products directly to consumers who match their target profiles. This data includes your location, your spending habits, and even your health and life situations. Your computer and your phone are constantly sending out information about you. Certain apps on your phone are even programed to send out updates to companies whenever you connect to wifi locations. Businesses can predict when you are getting married, having kids, going to college, and even getting a divorce. Consumer data companies make trillions of dollars selling personal information and histories to major brands around the world. In other words, if Bruce Wayne started buying batarangs or cowls in bulk online, chances are that Target would figure out who Batman was before the Joker ever did.

All of this means is that maybe there are no masks left to hide behind. Maybe this is a surveillance state of our own making. After all, teens are sharing more personal information about themselves today than ever. In a survey conducted in 2012 compared to one conducted in 2006, 91% of teens in 2012 posted photos of themselves, opposed to 79% in 2006. Teens also proved more willing to share their school name, hometown, and email address online. 20% of teens surveyed in 2012 were even willing to share their cell phone number, as opposed to just 2% in the 2006 survey.

The eighteen year olds entering college this year were seven when Facebook was first invented. The fourteen year olds entering high school this year were three. To them email is something that they use to answer messages from their grandparents, and even Facebook is a tool of their parent’s generation. Yet, they still use it, and the typical teen has 300 friends and 79 Twitter followers. They are constantly connected, they live in the digital world as much as the real one. Everything they do in one world is reflected in the other, and to them that is normal. On the other side, if someone is not on a social network, they might as well not exist. Even Facebook has a Twitter account and Twitter a Facebook page. Does that mean that the next generation just has no expectation of privacy, no understanding of the importance of a secret identity?

Losing the Mask
In the golden age of comic books, secret identities were more believable, but today, in the golden age of social media and digital intelligence gathering, the idea is become has less and less so. Marvel has all but abandoned the concept in their cinematic universe. It all started with Tony Stark’s declaration, “I am Iron Man.” In fact the Daredevil Netflix series is the first time the audience gets to meet a hero who has to worry about his dual identity. Even the DC movie universe has begun to flounder on the idea. It takes Lois Lane all but ten minutes to figure out Clark Kent’s identity in Man of Steel, and we don’t question it. In fact, of all the sins committed by that movie, that was not one of them. Lois Lane is a crack investigative reporter, and it has always been completely unbelievable that she was never able to connect the dots on the biggest story of Metropolis, considering the clues were right under her nose. Yet ditching the idea of secret identities is both a little worrying and a little sad.

In a way the Internet has given everyone a mask to wear, a new face to present to the world, but now our lives, our bank accounts, our nude bodies, and even our innermost opinions can all be Googled. With cameras attached to the hips of every man woman and child, with facial recognition software so common that Facebook uses it to identify your friends in photographs, and with a youth culture who is growing up with their dirty laundry forever memorialized on the Internet, are we heading for a future where the most any of us will be able to hope for is 15 minutes of anonymity?

The real truth of the matter is not that the general public has not given up on their privacy. In fact, 93% of adults want to be in control of who receives their information. Even the younger generations are not blind to issues of privacy. 57% of teenagers surveyed reported that they did not put something online for fear of negative repercussions, and 60% of teens have their Facebooks set to private. As a population we do still care about maintaining our own secret identities, but we keep seeing a world where it is easier and easier to fall into the traps of convenience and data tracking programs, corporations, and even the government. People have not stopped caring, so much as resigned themselves to the inevitable. It is understandable. In a world where every celebrity has a leaked photo of their genitals, 1 in 5 Americans will have their ID’s stolen, and where Goggle and our phones begin to predict our daily schedule, it is understandable if we feel powerless.

A World Without Heroes?
Maybe that is why our only heroes are the ones left on the silver screen and in comic books. Without any masks our society has lost a belief in heroes. Anyone who does something good and noble today, will ultimately have their dirty laundry aired for all to see tomorrow. It is as inevitable as Aunt May’s next trip to the hospital, and that is the worst part of all this.  We forget that the purpose of secret identities in comic books for people like Batman and Superman was to ensure that they were seen as symbols of justice and hope, rather than as normal men. Our society needs heroes. We need symbols and when you pull away the mask the human underneath can never live up to our expectations.

Even worse, for people like Spider-Man a mask helps protect those he loves from reprisals from super-villains and other elements of the criminal underworld. In a world where Internet commentators are hacked and threatened, with alarming frequency, maybe that does not seem like such a crazy idea. We are not saying that everyone who wears a mask is good. After all, for every activist there is a troll lurking. For every anonymous donor there is a flame war brewing, but for every comment of hate and cyber bullying there is also a message of hope and pictures of kittens, and people willing to do what it right for one another. For every Green Goblin there is a Spider-Man. Oscar Wilde once famously said that, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth,” and that is true for both heroes and villains, but that is a choice everyone should be free to make for themselves.

Privacy, both online and IRL is one of the backbones of our freedoms. Secret identities give us the ability to be something more than human. We can become a symbol and a voice for change. Once we lose our digital mask, that ability to transcend ourselves, we may never get it back. However, if the Internet does finally strip us of our masks, whose face will we bear for all the world to see? Are we really Bruce Wayne or Batman, and can either exist without the other?

Regardless, we need to take great care to guard what little identities we have left. Once you stand up and declare, “I am Iron Man,” you can never take it back. Just ask Tony Stark.