Former co-workers and faraway friends lose track of me
Last month a former co-worker/good friend of mine hopped over the pond from the UK to the US. I was lucky to visit with him, his adorable little girl, and his lovely wife for an afternoon. I already felt very close to him and “caught up” with his life because his wife maintains a detailed log of pictures and updates on Facebook. I realized they probably didn’t feel as close to me and my family because I post very, very few pictures and personal updates. I don’t post a lot of pictures anywhere except Flickr, and even those are not of my family members. I don’t blog about my family at any social media sites or here at purplecar.net.
Last week, I lunched with different former coworkers (yes, I keep friends from every job I’ve ever had!) who told me there was no evidence online that I was still married. They actually wondered if I was getting divorced because of the lack of references to my husband. They found a mention or two on Twitter or elsewhere that I have children, but nothing about my husband.
My fairly anonymous presence online is by design, but for the first time since the mid-90’s I’m wondering if I’m taking the right approach. Perhaps my business-only tactic keeps my friends at an unnecessary distance.
2 hard lessons in 1989 & 1995 that lead me to be privacy-oriented
In 1989, I was a Freshman at the University of Pittsburgh. I had an online account and would visit a lab almost daily to check email and hop on Internet Relay Chat (IRC) to talk with other students from around the world. One day, a young man from a college in Ohio with whom I had chatted a few times online drove (uninvited) to UPitt, logged onto a terminal, then waited for me to log on to IRC. Once I signed in, he “fingered” my IP address and found me at my terminal. I can still feel that silent and startling tap on the shoulder when he sneaked up behind me in the computer lab. It turned out he was a basically harmless guy who just wanted to say “Hi” and confirm I was a real person. Although insensitive to women’s experiences, this guy wasn’t at all dangerous. A woman on IRC back in those days was a less than 1% occurrence, so naturally I stirred up much curiosity at Pitt and frankly, in the entire tri-state area. But I didn’t realize until that day how easily I could have been harmed. I stopped using IRC until the UPitt system designed a safer way for me to log in by rotating DNS/IP licenses for the terminals (which was never, at least not while I was still at Pitt).
Around 1995, I left a job at UPenn to go to graduate school at TempleU. My html page that I started in 1993 while I was working at UPenn was never deleted from the server and unscrupulous grad students hacked the page and wrote derogatory and libelous statements next to easily-identifiable images of me. I had to threaten a lawsuit for the Principal Investigator to take down the page. But back in those days, false statements as captions under images on the Internet were ignored in the courts. A lawyer told me that I’d have to prove damages to collect them. They just didn’t get it back then. Thankfully, the UPenn responded quickly to the situation, but the scars on my psyche remained.
I really haven’t posted many easily-identifiable pics of me or my family online since. Sure, there is an occasional one here and there, but they are quite rare and usually in limited and fairly secure environments.
Why I don’t post pictures on Facebook
Facebook’s Terms of Service make it clear that Facebook will take and sell your photos at their discretion. This means that if you say, win the lottery, are accused of holding up a bank, or your teenager runs away, Facebook can grab a little cash by selling your photos to media outlets. Does this happen a lot? No. But more and more employers, lawyers, law enforcement, are searching social media profiles for information or even evidence against you. Bad guys have been known to look up your home price and the fact that you have children and plan kidnapping attempts. The pain that can come from pictures of your family members released beyond your control can be immense and devastating.
But on the other hand, my friends feel like they don’t know me anymore. They can’t keep up with what is going on in my life. Two decades ago, we would’ve called or written snail mail. A decade ago we would have emailed regularly. Today a new standard of social media sharing has made using phones and emails for catching up inconvenient and obsolete. So, I don’t call or email but I don’t post either. The threads of connection to my far-away friends are fraying.
How to keep in touch without Facebook or social sites?
The only idea that holds any appeal to me is a personal newsletter sent via email or (gasp!) snail mail. Of course, if you know me well this idea is so laden with irony it could crush a truck. I despise Christmas newsletters and photocards and have never sent them. I ache over what to do with birth announcement pictures and the like. The thought of storing these pieces of paper forever just gives me hoarding-induced nausea. At the same time, I feel horrible guilt shredding them to bits (makes for a joyful holiday season, eh?).
I need to do something. There isn’t a viable option online that allows me to post and share pictures online. Flickr is pretty great, but my friends and family don’t use the site. Everyone uses Facebook. They also have email, though, and I think that’s just the way I’m heading. A newsletter published in pdf form sent to a small few is my best bet. I suppose in the next few weeks I’ll set up some varied email lists and start making a monthly update schedule. Email me if you want to be included. I guess I’ll have three types of newsletter: “Friends and Family,” “Business, Social Media, Tech” and maybe a third for my personal “Writing” updates. You can already sign up for PurpleCar updates via email under the “subscribe” option in the right column of the purplecar.net homepage, so I won’t be including posts. Watch this space for more details on the newsletters.
And please, if you do sign up for a newsletter, read it, then delete it! No need to keep email forever either. Digital detritus is still detritus. Too much clutter clogs up your mind, even if it is in 5K increments.
How do you keep in touch?
Any and all ideas welcome. Let me know in the comments.