I’ve written about the need to type your name into a search engine every once in a while, since, you know, they’re talking about you and all. I’ve also talked about ways that some people use the web for evil. Recently, I had an interesting thought collision: am I stalkable? I don’t mean to be creepy in this post, but it’s a question that has previously only occurred to me as a completely ludicrous thought in passing, usually incited by an article about how people were checking in at locations every hour and ended up getting robbed. I don’t check in, so I must not be findable, unless, of course, you know my full name, occupation, and other personal details that I personally give to you.
My husband occasionally travels for business, and though I lived alone for several years before we got married, I’ve gotten used to having someone at home at night. Thus, when he’s traveling, I’m a bit unnerved to be home alone when it’s time for bed. This basically translates into locking both deadbolts before I go to sleep, so nothing terribly drastic. While he was gone on a business trip, I went to the gym. A young fellow stepped onto the elliptical next to me and apologized for stinking after a sweaty workout. My reply, “No worries, it’s a gym, you’re supposed to sweat!” opened the door to a nice chat about work and education. During the conversation, I mentioned that I’m in marketing, in the aviation industry, I’m working on an MBA at UT Dallas, and I previously lived in California. He shared his occupation, industry, undergraduate alma mater, and the rent he pays at his current apartment (we were talking about the difference in housing prices between CA and TX, a topic that comes up pretty frequently when people find out I lived in CA). He finished his cardio before me, and as he walked off, he threw his first name out there, so I replied with my first name, and that was that.
On the way home, it occurred to me that I’d given out quite a bit of information about myself to a complete stranger. Then I realized, I do that all the time. I’m a social person, so if you decide to talk to me on the elevator, in the grocery line, or at the gym, I’ll probably engage you if I have a few minutes. With the details I’d given (and regularly give), could you find me?
That’s when I decided to stalk myself. I used good ‘ole boolean logic to string together some searches on the information that I frequently spill about myself to random strangers. The good news is, it takes quite a bit of detail to actually find me. The bad news is, I usually give you enough detail to do it. The good news is, a lot of other people come up in the search results well before I do. The bad news is, I eventually came up as the #3 search result. I had to search on 5 details for my LinkedIn profile to show up.
I suppose I should freak out a little bit, since my impetus for stalking myself was brought on by the thought of someone else stalking me, but I really don’t feel any more worry about it than I do about being home alone. I guess I just feel that if someone is really out to get me, they’ll find a way to do it, whether I put myself out there or not. I mean, that guy at the gym could’ve followed me to my car and followed me home… much simpler than trying to find me online, deduce where I live, catch me home alone, and do me harm. Then again, maybe I’M the ax murderer that’s going to stalk him and do harm to him, even though I seem like a friendly person at the local gym.
This is all just food for thought. How much do we really know or trust anyone we meet? How has the internet changed how we interact with strangers? What’s REALLY so unique to you that you can’t put it out into the world, for fear of it being used against you? Is it worth closing yourself off to all social media, just in case?