Sunday, August 1, 2010

Our Brave New Online World

Last week, I did something I've never done before in my adult life -- I went on vacation.

Yes, I've done a couple long-weekend road trips with friends, been to a couple weddings that required plane tickets, and have been seen some new areas a few times on the official business of Uncle Sam, but I'm talking about a far-from-home, toes-in-the-water, someone-just-asked-me-what-day-of-the-week-it-was-and-I-honestly-didn't-know vacation. For the record, it was awesome. I'd never taken a cruise before, found it to be a cool experience, and one of those things people should try to do at some point in their lives just to try it (I would have used the term 'Bucket List' here but I generally dislike the morbid implication).

Bermuda is pretty beautiful, too. And for all the times I've heard it from Bermudians, I'll repeat it here -- They're a first-world country by any statistical way you can slice it, and they're not in the Caribbean (Yes, they get a bit touchy about being confused with a lot of those 'other' island republics).

What I didn't do, however, was announce that I was going, or give any associated details, here on this blog, or on Facebook, or on Twitter. I've just heard too many cautionary tales about people who excitedly blabber about their wonderful vacation plans -- right down to the details of the itinerary -- only to come home and find that their domicile has been "liberated" of all its valuable electronics, jewelry, and cash.

Sure enough, when I got back to Home Sweet Condo, everything was fine. Not a creature had stirred there while we were gone, and the place was the same on the way back in, for better and for worse.

Going back through some Facebook wall posts, however, I noticed something interesting -- if someone had cared enough to pay attention, he or she could have pieced together much of what I was trying to 'protect' by the information there. Completely innocuously, posts suggesting, "Have a great honeymoon cruise out of Boston...and a great time in Bermuda!" would have given a good head start (there was only one such cruise departing Boston in this general time frame). A period of "radio silence" from my online self, here on the blog, and on Facebook (I pretty much stopped using Twitter when Facebook rolled out its news feed in a similar fashion) would have been another clue. I may not have helped matters by announcing here and in my e-mail away messages when I expected to rejoin the digital world.

But you've probably already heard a lot about the need for vigilance with regards to online, personally-identifying information. In that sense, I'm not saying something new...but my twist on it is this: Even if YOU take all the right steps (hard-core Facebook privacy settings, not stating dates or locations of travel outright, carefully crafted 'out-of-office' messages, etc.) that still might not be enough. In fact, you might not be able to completely protect or craft your identity in the way you might wish to, because other online users might innocently spill the beans via idle chatter on their Facebook walls or other public, online forms of communication.

Think about it, how innocently might someone remark in a coffee shop, "My friends Debbie and Jim are off in Hawaii for two weeks, I can't wait to see the pictures and hear about it."

Sounds reasonable, right?

If the modern 'coffee shop' is Tumbler, or Facebook, or Myspace, or whatever else, it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to see how Debbie and Jim could quickly become vulnerable.

Here's another, less serious twist on that -- with a nod to Brad Paisley, who penned and sang the wonderful tune "So Much Cooler Online," we all know people who work hard to craft online identities/personalities that portray themselves in some ideal, imagined light that might be a bit off from reality. The joke from the song is about a guy who becomes a lot taller, more athletic, and suave with the women as soon as he gets behind a keyboard and monitor, but there are myriad forms 'online identities' might take.

In one real-life example, I have a friend of a friend (who will definitely remain nameless here!) who sees my buddy from time to time and constantly spits a line that sounds like, "Dude!! So good to see you, man! I like, totally want to come see you and visit you more often, but man, it's so tough...I'm just so broke."

Without any prompting or querying from anyone else about his financial means (or lack thereof), this guy takes it upon himself to prattle on about how he would love to be a better friend, and visit more, but his 'brokeness' gets in the way. He may shape his online 'self' to reflect this impecunious avatar of his, but, alas, he is hoist on the Facebook petard.

Through other peoples' tagging of photos, and other peoples' discussions from "Wall-to-Wall" I'm able to see via my Facebook News Feed (no prying or spying here, the Newsfeed is what I scroll during those daily little micro-pockets of free time) I can see that "Mr. Broke" is in fact living quite well by the standards of any late-twentysomething -- in fact, this guy spends several weeks out of the year visiting exotic locales with his girlfriend and other buddies, with the costs of any one of such trips dwarfing the half-tank of gas or $30 round-trip bus ticket it would take for him to see the semi-estranged buddy.

My only conclusion here is that unless someone is going to go around spending hours out of his or her day to 'sanitize' the Internet in order to help ensure that nothing legitimately sensitive (i.e. details of when a house might be empty) or something cutting against the grain of an individual's desired projected image (i.e. embarrassment over inherited or transferred wealth), the Brave New World of online transparency is just something we're going to have to live with.

So maybe this is where I should tell you I don't drive a Maserati and don't live in Malibu. I'm not 6'5", and I don't have a black belt. And yes, the only time I've had a "three-way" was when I was chatting with two women at the same time.

But you already knew that, so let's agree to call it good.


Renee said...

I rarely hear bad things about Bermuda. Been there twice. Once when I was 15 with my parents and again when I was married, but 3 months pregnant with morning sickness. I found out I was preggers the night we bought tickets.

Whenever my husband and I went somewhere it was to visit family. Even our honeymoon, yeah it was Italy but I had to visit the extended in-laws and so much time traveling.

Get on a plane at 8am in Boston and you're settled in your hotel on the beach by 2pm in Bermuda. It's worth the travel it even if you're there for three nights.

Even as a teenager I like Bermuda a lot.

A lot of British vacation there, and one thing I notice is how completely over casual Americans are even at high end hotels. I stayed at the Elbow Beach Hotel pretty expensive, but as long as you don't get an ocean view was affordable. Americans dress as if they were spending the day at Disney. While not enforced places pushed for some dress code, especially at dinner. Kids in wet bathing suits in the lobby??? It's not the Holiday Inn, royalty stays at this place.

Geesh I sound like a snob, but it's nice to step it up a notch and dress up to match the building you're staying at. If I want frumpy shorts and fanny packs I'll head up to New Hampshire for Story Landand the local family fun motel.

The New Englander said...

...And your point about getting on a plane and being there that day is key. I didn't come away from the cruise as being wildly pro or con -- I would probably do that again if the means allow, but I'm not rushing to or dreaming about saving up for another one.

From a convenience side, the same-day aspect of plane travel sure is nice, and from a financial point of view the cruise ain't such a great deal (subject of a future post, for sure).

..As for the casual-ness, I could see the other side, though...people are on vacation, they want to just sort of lounge. I think the hotel supply in Bermuda is limited (by their design?) so there might not be a lot of options for travelers..