It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again here. One of the best things about being a blogger, beyond the simple joy of sharing the messed up stuff in your head with others, is meeting other bloggers online. In a kind of First Contact, alien life is real and we are not alone scenario, we discover that there are other people out there who do what we do, laugh at the same things we do, and share some of the very same messed up ideas. Sometimes, these blog-to-blog meetings, either through the comments sections or via trolling for blog material, lead to like-minded people forming contacts away from the blogs, via email or social network sites such as Facebook, and although existing on-line only these relationships begin to take on a more ‘genuine friendship’ basis. I myself have made several of these connections, and although I have never met these people, I feel I’ve forged links with some of them, be it through online chatting and shooting the breeze or via a more professional mutual respect. Or something.
And with the discovery of these new friendships online comes the inevitable curiosity about what those people are REALLY like. See, the problem with online relationships is that they’re a bit two-dimensional. Text and photos, even if ‘live’ in chat rooms, can only convey so much to you about a person, so unless you’re chatting using a webcam, you naturally begin to wonder to yourself what their voice sounds like, how they move, what the actual person is like in a social situation. Because as human beings, we’re naturally curious about that stuff. We are the most interactive species on the planet, with a thousand and more differing subtle social markers and boundaries, and as we develop a friendship we begin to want this information so we can more accurately categorise our position relative to the other person and so begin to feel at ease with them. In more primitive terms, we need to get the pissing contest out of the way so we can both settle down and feed.
And so it was that one night, when the blog and Facebook were both showing little but tumble-weeds blowing past the metaphorical empty saloon of the Internet, and fuelled by this idle curiosity about others, I accidentally went stalking.
I befriended a woman from America a while back, and both my wife and I had added her on Facebook. Her name and location will not be mentioned here, since my relationship with her is not the focus of this blog, and because privacy is as rare as rocking-horse shit these days. However suffice it to say that my wife and I agreed that we enjoyed chatting to her, and we had some wonderful conversations online about the differences between our countries, words and phrases, food items, fashions and customs and so on and so forth….. And so on this fateful night, I became curious about the place she lived – I know absolutely nothing about American geography, since it could tuck my country in its back pocket (and has done so for a while, but that’s a WHOLE other blog!) and I’ve never been there so frankly couldn’t be arsed to learn much about it. So I had no real framework around which to imagine her possible surroundings, and resorted to cheating. I pulled up GoogleMaps and went for a stroll around her home town.
GoogleMaps is a brilliant, and frankly scary-as-fuck invention. With a rough location, you can go anywhere in the world, zoom down to a street level view, and go strolling around someone’s neighbourhood. True, not every road is included, and its based on photos that are taken some while ago. But its pretty much like being there now. And here’s where this story takes a wonderfully stalker-ish twist. I noticed that she was online. In hindsight it’s fortunate I didn’t scare the living shit out of her, because I IM’d her with something like “Hey, I’m bored so I’m using Googlemap to wander around your town!! LOL!!! I’m stalking you LMAO!!! I’m outside ~@?>:”$%*’s pizza place right now!!!!”
Fortunately, she is a rational woman and realised that I was not, in fact, just around the corner with a step ladder, some wire cutters and a chloroform-soaked rag. But then, to my amazement, she replied with “Oh, that’s literally just down the road from my house”, and proceeded to give me directions to her house. SOOOO…. I GoogleStomped my way uptown and eventually after some navigational fine-tuning, I found myself stood in the street outside her house. What an odd feeling. I could see the mall across the street where she shops, the sandwich place down the street she’d mentioned, and with running commentary from her it was almost like being given a guided tour around her home. And in return, I guided her somewhat more trickily to my house, where she stood outside looking at my lounge window, behind which in real life I was sat at my laptop guiding her in.And then it struck me.
Sure, we were happy to show each other around our respective home towns, and enjoyed seeing the cultural differences between our lifestyles. We were cool. Like Fonzy. And that is very cool. So, no problems – but how amazingly easy it had been to get right into the correct town without any guidance from the other…. we had barely had more than a handful of conversations online, and yet knew exactly where to look for each other’s homes. Kind of scary when you think about it.
The Internet these days is, frankly, a dangerously wide open minefield of information leakage, and even with appropriate security measures and firewalls in place, the amount of information about YOU available online is frankly shocking. Had either myself or my American friend been a genuine stalker/pervert, we’d have found our way into each others neighbourhoods in real 3d picture form, and been able to walk the streets without leaving our homes. Ugh. Creepy feeling up the spine? Check. It made me wonder long and hard about the balance today between the wonderful freedom of information and opinion we all have access to and the consequent breaking down of our personal barriers as we allow more and more free access to our lives. Interaction will always be a two-way street, by its very nature, and you may have less control over that flow of information than you believe.
There’s no real stunning conclusion to today’s short post, more a residual curiosity – have any of you readers had experiences with privacy invasion online? Or have you engaged in any kind of online stalking activity yourselves?? Either way I’d love to hear all about it, or indeed any other thoughts you guys have on this issue. A blog without comments and feedback is not a blog, it’s a rant, so don’t show me up on this one, ok, get involved. Let’s stalk each other for a while……….