Now Things Get Complicated: The Calculus of Desire
So, here’s where we are on the timeline: it’s 6:44pm (1:44PM, EST)*, the day before Tyler Clementi commits suicide and Clementi has just posted to the “college roommate spying” thread on Just Us Boys that he will speak to the dorm RA that night.
cit2mo’s next post is Wednesday, September 22nd, 4:38AM (Tuesday, September 21st, 11:38PM).
It’s fair to say that it is full of surprises.
Although there have been five additional posts to the “college roommate thread” since cit2mo’s last post at on Tuesday, September 21st, 6:44PM (1:44PM, EST) the previous evening (afternoon0, cit2mo begins by catching everyone up on how the narrative has advanced in the intervening hours.
He wanted to “have the guy over again.” Confirming the version of events gleaned from Ravi’s tweets, cit2mo reports that he “texted roomie around 7 asking for the room later tonight and he said it was fine.”
Who is “the guy”? To date, he has not been identified. Is he a student? A university employee? Someone from the local community? The only indication we have on this front comes via Molly Wei’s lawyer: what she saw during the initial encounter was Clementi kissing and hugging another man who seemed “kind of sketchy” and is described as having ragged clothes and a scruffy beard.
We actually know something else. The police are sure to know who the man in the room was. Why? Because there’s no privacy where cell communication is involved. If Clementi called or texted this man, that information is recorded in his cell phone, which was left in his car at the George Washington Bridge. If he had email correspondence with this man, then the correspondence will be recoverable as well.
The calculus of desire is forever generating problems insoluble to outsiders. Clementi and this man had been together on Saturday night; Clementi knew Ravi had spied on them; after setting in motion the process of changing roommates, Clementi then quickly arranged another assignation with this man, who was free to meet on Tuesday evening. And Ravi, learning of this, aims to repeat his earlier spying, with a very important change: he invites others to watch with him online.
I’ll explain the technology shortly: the technology is soluble. There’s no solving for the X of human desire, though.
Clementi returns to his room after having got the green light from Ravi and immediately sees what’s afoot. As discussed earlier in this meditation, the spying setup here can’t have been terribly subtle:
Clementi checks Ravi’s Twitter feed and reads the original tweet regarding Ravi’s plans:
Anyone with iChat I dare you to chat me between hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes, it’s happening again.
Clementi’s gloss on the tweet is significant: “‘anyone want a free show just video chat me tonight’….or something similar to that….”
What exactly is Ravi up to?
At this point, the nature of his actions take a darker turn. While there were grounds to see his initial voyeuristic act as thoughtless and possibly motivated by thwarted desire (as one of cit2mo’s advisors suggests), this second act establishes his intention to make the live stream of Clementi’s second encounter available to others on his iChat buddy list.
How would this work?
Recall my previous diagram showing how establishing a video chat between the computer in Clementi’s room and the one in Wei’s room would allow the people in Wei’s room to see what was going on in Clementi’s room:
Screen in room 1 darkened; camera in room 1 sends images to screen in room 2.
The extraordinary power of video chat rests in its ability to support multiple video chats simultaneously, thus allowing more than two people to meet at once:
The maximum number of users who can participate simultaneously is four, so Ravi could have brought in two other buddies to view remotely, along with him, what was taking place on the fourth screen. Any number of people could assemble to watch what was coming through on that fourth screen.
For those on Ravi’s buddy list without video chat, Ravi could carry on in iChat, narrating, as he did before, whatever he was seeing: “Saw my roommate kiss a dude. Yay.”
Ravi’s intentions are clear: via iChat or video chat, he wants others to watch with him.
But it is also clear that his intentions weren’t realized.
As mentioned previously, if you knew what was planned, putting an end to it doesn’t require mad tech skills:
cit2mo responds to Ravi’s second tweet in the following ways:
- “Ran to the nearest RA and set this thing in motion.”
- “Turned off and unplugged his computer, went crazy looking for other cameras…”
- “and then had a great time.”
“This thing” could mean initiating a room change; it could also mean exposing his roommate’s actions.
cit2mo’s penultimate post, just ten minutes later at 4:48AM (Tuesday, September 21st, 11:38PM, EST), reveals that he’s gone back and read the five intervening posts to the “college roommate spying” thread.
relaxin13, posting at 3:43AM (Tuesday, September 21st, 10:43PM, EST), concedes he’s not “an expert on the law” but, if cit2mo wants to short circuit his roommate’s claiming that he was just keeping an eye on his stuff, he “may want to take a screencap[ture] of his twitter feed”–that is, if cit2mo “want[s] to go the legal route . . . .”
cit2mo cites relax13’s advice: “You may want to take a screencap of his twitter feed if you want to go the legal route so you have some evidence of his activity,” and responds:
oh haha already there baby
So, cit2mo was prepared to go the legal route.
If cit2mo first posted at 4:38AM (Tuesday, September 21st, 11:38PM, EST) and then started to read up through the intervening posts, his elation of having set things in motion (“oh haha already there baby”) might have quickly worn off. relaxin13 goes on to recommend talking to the roommate first; altlover85 advises him to go the LGBT center or a counseling center and “talk about it with someone,” then posts again directly to cit2mo to say:
“OP [to the original poster], you have to decide how far you want to take this. It really depends on how much it bothered you. Possibly getting someone expelled is pretty serious, but if you feel that it affected you that much, then you should go with it.”
If these posts took the wind out of cit2mo’s sails, Chardius was back to offer encouragement at 5:51AM (0:51AM, EST). Citing cit2mo’s plans to “set this thing in motion,” Chardius writes:
“Good luck, let us know how this goes. I hope the RA took this seriously.”
cit2mo’s final post to Just Us Boys and his last publicly available communication until his jump from the George Washington Bridge just fourteen hours later, comes at 6:17AM (1:17AM, EST):
he seemed to take it seriously…
he asked me to email him a written paragraph about what exactly happened…
I emailed it to him, and to two people above him….
Over the next six days, the discussion thread, “college roommate spying,” remains active at Just Us Boys. There are twenty-nine additional posts, five of which were posted before Clementi committed suicide.
aijalon18 weighs in at 9:26AM (4:26AM, EST) to disapprove of starting by going to the RA. “You seem to think you are gonna come home one day and all his stuff is will be gone. It’s not going to be that easy. Especially if his parents are notified and they get involved.”
He then lays it out:
But in college you are to be learning to handle things as an adult. That isnt telling on him first. First you should work it out yourself. Think about it. If I was doing something that bothered my roommate and instead of talking to me about it he just blindsided me with the RA, I would be livid. It would only make things btwn you two and people [on] your floor worse.
Honestly he doesnt seem like a real homophobe mostly just an idiot. He hasnt threatened you are [sic] done anything to your face. He seems like he can be reasoned with. He prolly has his own issues with his sexuality. What normal straight guy would go out of his way to record 2 [g]ay guys making out? I think you are making a mistake in how you are handling it.
These words take on considerable weight if they arrive under the banner: “The last words Clementi read.” But we don’t know that he did read them; only that he could have.
Or did cit2mo login again late in the day and read this post at 11:55PM (6:55PM, EST) from artlover85:
I agree with aijalon18 here. It’s not going to be a quick process and I don’t think the OP is handling it like an adult by not talking to the roommate. I think the OP is in danger of becoming a social pariah for the rest of the semester and perhaps year.
While on his way to the George Washington Bridge or parked in his car looking out at his options, did cit2mo log on to read this post from bankside at 12:20AM (7:20PM, EST):
You absolutely don’t talk to your roommate about his illegal activities. I think aijalon and artlover are giving advice that is not helpful.
My guess is that Clementi wasn’t much concerned with what the folks on justusboys thought by this time. He was in the chute.
Over the days that follow, the JUB community debates whether going to the RA was an unnecessary act of aggression or an appropriate response to a clear violation of privacy. As has been evidenced throughout this meditation, the community doesn’t come to a quick consensus about the best course of action; instead, the community provides a platform for a number of different positions to be voiced.
Of course, those reading the ongoing discussion now know what the posters didn’t know then: that Clementi is no longer around to consider the advice on offer; that without warning, the discussion has become academic.
At 8:48 PM, Clementi downloads the Facebook application to his phone.
At 8:50PM, he changes his status to read: “jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”
After six days of silence, on September 28th, 5PM (noon, EST), Ohiospeedo, citing cit2mo’s final post about sending the paragraph to the RA and two higher ups, asks,
“Any updates? Are you still living with roommate?”
And September 29th, 6:40PM (1:40PM, EST), the next poster, DeMan06 has put one and one together two hours after the story breaks on Gawker about Ravi’s Twitter feed. He sends up a request for contact:
“If the OP could give us an update that he git [sic] his situation sorted it would be greatly appreciated.”
At 9:14PM (4:14PM, EST), crzyrzn provides what is, in effect, the community’s epitaph for Clementi:
“Holy crap! This is disturbing. Poor kid. He didn’t seem that frustrated about it in his posts, maybe upset, but not suicidal. If it was him, just tragic. Nothing you had to take your life over, buddy.
This is part of an ongoing meditation on the End of Privacy. While it can be read on its own, you might enjoy starting at the beginning, where I lay out the project of thinking about privacy in relation to examining information about Tyler Clementi that is openly available on the Web. This mediation starts here: The End of Privacy: A Case Study (Tyler Clementi and WikiLeaks)
*As I explain here, the hours for cit2mo’s posts are all GMT+1. Moving them to EST requires subtracting five hours.
The article citing the lawyers for Ravi and Wei may be found here.