Travis Smith: my resume, bio and photos back to the main blog page

Preamble to this blog post’s actual topic: I’m an investigator.  I enjoy figuring out logical puzzles and mysteries.  This is a hobby of mine.

I’m also a natural interviewer, with an interest in other people.  When I meet someone interesting, I often want to know more about them.

So, to use some recent examples, when I meet an interesting couple at a wedding, and they turn out to be prosecuting lawyers here in B.C., I’ll look them up and see if they’ve done any interesting cases.

Or, when I know someone has worked in the entertainment industry, I’ll look up their credits, and see what they’ve worked on.

Sometimes, when people speak up to ask questions at a conference and announce who they are and where they’re from, I’ll see if I can find them in Google in the time it takes for their question to be answered.

When our downstairs neighbour tells me she’d bought a town home and would be moving out, I figure out which listed house she’s bought before she tells me, based on clues in the conversation. (How many bedrooms?  How far away?  Do you think it’ll take much work before it’s ready to move in? Got it!)

And, when my mom tells me she fell asleep watching a movie, I’ll try to figure out what it was from the first half of the plot.  Mom likes this, too, because it means I can tell her how the movie ended.

* * *

However, as more and more personal information about and by people—information that’s often impromptu and unfiltered at its origin, like comments and Wall posts and party pictures—moves online, I’m discovering that this habit—and while I don’t think I’m the only one who does this, I think I probably do it more than most—is running into a shifting (not entirely unjustified) expectation of privacy in online spaces.

So I think most would agree it’s probably totally kosher to look up someone’s LinkedIn profile who you’ve met at a conference, but is it OK to do that with your landlord?  Is it kosher to be told someone’s email and then check that person’s domain registration listing to find out what neighbourhood they live in? (And does it matter why you’re doing it? Is plain curiosity worse than to find out if in the same area that you’ve visited as a tourist?)

Is it OK to follow the twitter feed of someone you haven’t met in person? What if it’s because they’re in your industry? Your neighbourhood? Or if they’re just funny? Or cute?) If a friend of a friend you meet at a party talks about having visited someplace obscure that sounds fascinating: Is it a faux pas to find his photos on Flickr and comment on them? What if it’s a woman’s photos? Are there different rules for men and women who are seeking and being looked up?

* * *

And so, the crux of this post.

Recently, there was a woman I met while playing Ultimate.  She seemed outgoing and was a decent player, and it was the end of the summer season. We talked on the field, introduced ourselves, but just the briefest of conversations.  I knew we needed players for the fall, and I knew her name, so I looked her up on Facebook.  I sent her a message about the Fall season and a poke, and forgot about it. 

Then six weeks later, I rediscovered her name in a to-do list, and I looked her up in Facebook again, and she was gone.  Weird, I thought—who leaves Crackbook?

A day or two later, it dawned on me that she probably hadn’t left Facebook, that she’d probably blocked me.

I have to tell you, that’s a weird feeling.  It seems slightly wrong to even tell the story here; it feels a bit like I’m admitting to having done something creepy. And it makes me wonder if I’ve been blocked by others on Facebook or on other services.  I’ve done my share of ignoring, but blocking seems a little more final… and as though I’m being judged either for something I didn’t do, or for something someone else did (i.e. she’s had to deal with a creep).

Being blocked has certainly made me second guess this looking stuff up that I do—and yet, it’s not like I’m doing anything beyond looking at what’s freely available.  I just do it more often than most, and I’m better at it than some.

The moral of the story: I don’t know.  I guess it’s that what you might think is private (like being on facebook), isn’t, and what you might think is acceptable online behavior (was it the poke?), isn’t, and the lines are not only faint, but they’re moving.

Overheard

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

...who said it?

“Almost every American I know does trade large portions of his life for entertainment, hour by weeknight hour, binge by Saturday binge, Facebook check by Facebook check. I’m one of them. In the course of writing this I’ve watched all 13 episodes of House of Cards and who knows how many more West Wing episodes, and I’ve spent any number of blurred hours falling down internet rabbit holes. All instead of reading, or writing, or working, or spending real time with people I love.”

...who said it?

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

...who said it?

“I play with variables constantly.”

...who said it?

“Only the person who has learned Continual Love coming from a heart of Gratitude/Worship can effectively deal with the problem of loneliness.”

...who said it?

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