Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Privacy vs. anonymity vs. invisibility

We are never truly alone, not here in the Blogosphere. A local news program ran a feature recently about how what we post online can come back to haunt us. The Tribune had a feature this week about MySpace, complete with suggestions such as don’t post an embarrassing photo of yourself, especially posing with a bottle or near a keg. There is a growing realization that prospective employers can Google you, find your web page, and decide that the buttoned-down corporate image you projected in your interview is at fatal variance with the wild and crazy party animal you depict on the Internet.

The kids seem to think this unfair; they think there’s some expectation of privacy here.

I don’t know how you can make something available on every computer in the world and still expect “privacy.” But that’s just The Curmudgeon in me.

From time to time I will search on my own real surname, looking to see what’s out there about me. Not that I’ve posed in the vicinity of any kegs lately – but I am a self-employed attorney with websites, for which I pay through the nose, and a “public” blog. If a prospective client is looking for me, I want my professional sites to be “visible.”

Of course, my children share my surname – and that can be interesting: A few weeks ago, following a link from a Yahoo! search, I came across what amounted to a girl’s diary, on line. My Oldest Son figured in a paragraph about some outing or other, one of many names, several of which were familiar to me because the diarist is from our neighborhood.

So I read on.

In the next paragraph, the writer wrote about her excitement at the prospect of meeting again with her boyfriend, after a prolonged separation, and how she, and he, acted on that excitement.

There are some things I don’t need to know. I understand that, in general, 20-something girls may not always save themselves for the marriage night; I went to college during the height of the Sexual Revolution, when herpes seemed to be the scariest thing out there, and when virtually random copulation seemed the order of the day. (I was 4-F during the Sexual Revolution. I tried to enlist at every opportunity – but to no avail – and that’s a different story.) I just don’t want to have my nose rubbed in the nocturnal adventures of my children’s circle of friends while browsing the Web. Let me cling to my illusions for as long as possible.

Not that this girl forced me to read her diary – but it was on line for me to find. Anyone could find it – even her parents. I can’t believe that this is what she had in mind in creating her personal blog. (And I think the site has been taken down. I didn’t keep track of the web address for the girl’s site – I didn’t want to keep track – but I recently ran the same search argument and her site no longer came up... so maybe her parents did find it. Yikes!)

Her site was by no means private.

And neither is this one – although it is anonymous. But all anonymous means is that I’m not using my real name.

Actually, when I started blogging I thought that choosing “The Curmudgeon” as my nom de plume would give me a distinctive online identity. I should have known better. There are all sorts of sites for blogging curmudgeons – old curmudgeons, young curmudgeons, 'gamer' curmudgeons, knitting curmudgeons, even a gay curmudgeon. One I’ve bookmarked and starting reading regularly is The Comics Curmudgeon.

So I went for anonymous with this site – and wound up invisible. I just put a Site Meter on this page to document how invisible I am. But I think that will change in due course.

At least it might, if my next post is more amusing.

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