Not too long ago I went to a salon for a haircut and found the staff — one of them a relative — looking at a 52-year-old snapshot of me on Facebook. Our daughter had put it up after going through some ancient family pictures, searching for one to use on an invitation to her daddy’s birthday party.
I was a little disconcerted; I subscribe to my brother’s belief that the fewer the people who know you exist, the better off you probably are. (Why then do I write this column, you may ask. Answer: I just can‘t resist. I really think my brother meant folks like the FBI, the IRS and the CIA.)
Anyhow, I have declined to go on Facebook and can tell you one of the problems that easy access to a person via the Internet caused me. An old boyfriend got in touch from California after discovering that an acquaintance there had grown up in my hometown and knew my sister, who queried me and then supplied her friend with my email address. I heard from him — again and again and again. Then he started calling on the phone and my husband groused, “Must be widowed or divorced and looking for some action.” He was; it turned out that the action he had in mind was me helping him to write his memoirs.
But I digress. The idea for this column came to me when our soon-to-be-16 grandson asked for a laptop computer for his birthday. You first met him when he was 2, and his only contact with technology was watching his mother put his Disney sing-along tapes in the VCR. One time when I was babysitting and did it too slowly to suit — just waiting for the previous tape to pop out — he hustled over in a rage and tried to grab it and do it himself.
Now our grandson is of an age to benefit from his own laptop at his high school, and he wants one with a camera and speakers on it. His grandfather, who’s always been more up on evil than I am (I was one of those teen-aged scaredy-cats that everybody knew), says kids sometimes use these cameras for nefarious purposes. And our daughter concurs, telling me about a thing called “skype” for which they use their cell-phone cameras. All she can do, she says, is monitor him at home and not allow the laptop to be used anywhere but there and at school.
This all happened before The Weiner Man showed his off on the Internet and was forced out of Congress after serving for seven terms — way too long already, in my opinion, but that’s another column if I decide to get into commenting on politics. If a 40-something member of the U.S. House of Representatives who looks as though he’s been around the block a few times can get into trouble online, what chance does an innocent 16-year-old have?
I’ve probably watched too many episodes of “Law and Order: SVU” to be easy about this. It seems that every other show features a teen victimized by a sleazy perp whose M.O. is electronic. People masquerading as something they’re not.
Which at last brings me to recount the story of a friend who’s in her 70s and is addicted (she wouldn’t contest that word) to playing games online. I mean those complicated games in which you create a virtual battle zone, setting up armies and warriors with distinct personalities and by winning points acquire their equipment and weapons. She has a grandson who’s involved, too, and he gifted her one Christmas with a virtual arsenal of things. He’s the only other player who knows she’s an old housewife looking for excitement and thrills, and she says she wants to keep it that way.
So when the “other kids” invite her to chat, she tells them her mom won’t let her.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at email@example.com.