It’s taken me a long time to wake up and smell the fact that more people in the world know more about me than I’d ever thought possible. Or really wanted them to. “No man is an island,” wrote English poet John Donne in the 16th century, and he was right.
A relative of mine who’d rather be an island once told me, “The fewer people who know you exist the better off you are.” He had a point, too, because at the time, about 40 years ago, he worked with a government agency that doesn’t court publicity.
But that was before Al Gore invented the internet and my reclusive relative became a university professor, achieving a prominent place on the school’s website, an invasion of privacy he’d never envisioned back then.
I got to thinking about that the other day when I took my fifth or sixth landline call from folks wanting more money for worthy causes, but unfortunately not ones I’ve budgeted for right now, it being barely past the Christmas spending spree. The other calls were from computers who used the word “seniors” within a few seconds of my picking up the phone, and I’m sharp enough to know they were instigated by merchants hoping to sell alarm systems or wheelchairs.
The reason I remembered Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” lament — “It’s my own damn fault!” — is that I’ve accommodated dozens of pollsters during recent times, giving them my learned opinions on political matters — and also at their request my approximate age and income bracket. Duh!
But offering too much info to pollsters isn’t the only means by which you can give yourself away these days. Internet salesmen know what books I prefer to read, what destinations I’ve bought airline tickets for, what kind of wine I like to drink and how much of it, how long and narrow my feet are, what movies and music I like, etc. If I were Hillary Clinton, the Republicans could use things like this in the run-up to the 2016 election. (Did Hillary buy Fifty Shades of Gray to read on her Kindle”? If I were planning to run for president and had used Silver Threads to air my views on gun control or race relations, would this, as they say, come back to bite me?)
I’ve never Tweeted — being unsure as to how you actually do this — or even “shared” on Facebook, because of an aversion to talk that’s that “small.” But when I Googled my own name the other day, hoping to find out whether the editor of a grandparenting magazine who’d asked permission had used last week’s Silver Threads on her site, I was surprised to find my January column on gout adorning two places on the web.
A reference I made to Charlotte Bronte long ago also appeared under my name — I couldn’t figure out what that was all about (Bronte scholars or fans, perhaps?) — and “Bettye Anding” popped up on a site otherwise written entirely in Japanese.
Was that posted by Japanese Americans, simply warning viewers that elderly women are susceptible to gout? Or is it a politically hot forum being monitored by the CIA and FBI? Should I call a linguist in to interpret the remarks that appear under my name?
Or wait until the feds come to the door, hoping that when they see an almost-80-year-old woman limp down the hall to greet them they’ll just shrug and turn away?