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Everything That I'm Made Of, I Put Online

Publication Date: 
November 27, 2010
Misha Angrist

I was born in 1964. While I continue to make peace with social networking, I still think of myself as too old to be an organic part of the exhibitionism on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. At best I am a poseur. I play in an occasional rock band with some other 40-somethings, and while we have a MySpace page, none of us is terribly adept at using it. In my band we will post pictures or movies of ourselves, but almost always with ambivalence, as we find them to be dorky, pretentious or otherwise embarrassing. Like any other collection of 45-year-olds still writing songs and performing them in dingy college-town bars on Friday nights for a dozen of their most patient, loyal and sleepy friends, we are narcissists and stultifyingly vain, to be sure, but hey, at least we're discriminating.

Much as I want to hide my potbelly (probably a sign of insulin resistance and determined by genes acting in concert with ice cream), I agreed to make my genome — the DNA sequence that I inherited from my parents and that is uniquely mine just as yours is uniquely yours — an open book. And if you want to study my phenotype — my health records, my ongoing struggles with depression and my infatuation with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or my dubious diet, for example — then go ahead, knock yourself out. It's all out there, with more to come, on the Internet. For doing this, I and the other participants in the Harvard-sponsored Personal Genome Project have been lauded for our "bravery" by friends and colleagues, derided for our elitism and egotism by some social and genome scientists, and largely ignored by the medical establishment.

Are we — were we — really so brave? One of my favorite people who think about these things, Stanford law professor Hank Greely, said not long ago, "People believe in the magic of genes and buy into the idea that they are the deepest secrets of our being. But maybe my credit card records come closer to being a deep secret of my being."