It was important that no one took your photograph because you didn’t want to end up a rude picture for bad men to download. We were very sure of that, very certain in our certainty. ‘Noah Potnik has a program,’ Felix and Otis swore, ‘that strips the clothes from any photo to show what the person looks like underneath.’ Noah Potnik had nude pictures of Gal Gadot and Emma Watson and Gigi Hadid, and Felix and Otis told how he’d flashed these images to them with a horrible grin on the bus one afternoon, their eyes growing as big as paper plates because with this power a person could X-ray past the clothes of anyone they wanted, but that meant that even though for some reason Noah Potnik didn’t have any pictures of boys it must be possible that they, too – Felix and Otis – could end up flying around the internet where people would stare at them with their clothes off.
We all nodded and pretended to know a lot about that, because at nine it was important to pretend to know a lot about the internet.
We were suspicious of nice people photographing us too, actually, especially our parents, due to another thing we pretended to know about the internet. Indigo Munro’s brother had let her use his laptop to watch YouTube but left the kids’ lock off, so she decided to search Google to see if anyone else shared her name, and if so would they like to be her pen pal.
What she found instead was herself. All over Instagram and on her mum’s Facebook she saw her own face gazing back, shiny and peach-coloured, smiling in every shot, at beachside kiosks or in front of waterfalls or waiting in line for under-age concerts she couldn’t even remember, and she said she felt this sickly hot bubble rising in her throat because she had finally gotten onto the internet only to find that she was already there.
The photos weren’t really her, though, because Indi didn’t like big crowds whereas the girl in these photos beamed confidence and pride and was totally happy being on the internet where anyone could look at her. Even Noah Potnik, said Big Vivaan, with a concerned stare. Indigo scowled. She said it was like when something you thought you knew really well suddenly feels strange. Do you mean like when you drink orange juice after brushing your teeth? asked Luna, but that wasn’t what Indi meant. She said it was more like if you snuck into your parents’ room and found a secret cupboard where they kept another version of you but it was a robot. Whenever they went to parties they would bring this life-sized doll version of you and show how it could do all of the Fortnite dances and it never got grumpy even when the parents teased it and they definitely never caught it eating dried flies off the windowsill. We all imagined our own parents with such replicas, this secret army closeted away in every home across the globe. It was a horrible thought, and we banished it by teasing Indi mercilessly until she cried, which only made things worse because it meant she really did think there was a robot Indigo Munro somewhere out there, because if she really didn’t think so then why did she get so upset?
At the same time we all began to shy away from cameras. So many images from that era are of smeared cheeks caught mid-turn, eyes dipped or shoulder raised in defence, some instinct for self-preservation forcing us into retreat.
Another one of the things we all pretended to know about was bloody bodies.