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In The Face(book) Of Privacy
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I am a somewhat private person. I try not to mix too much of my private and professional lives together, also doing my best to keep much of my private life out of the public eye. Some of you may notice that I have a cartoon rendering that serves as my "photo" by my name for this column.

Past experiences, although in different cities, have led me to decide that this mode of operation is best for me. It's creepy when a total stranger approaches you, or even follows you, hoping to make a connection. There are a lot of weirdoes out there.

Even in a small town, otherwise "normal" people - who are still total strangers - sometimes lose their sense of propriety and may approach you in the feminine products aisle at the drugstore because they recognize you from your photo in the newspaper and need to tell you something. It always makes me laugh and cringe at the same time when one of my coworkers tells me about a bizarre encounter in the grocery checkout line of when a stranger tapped them on the shoulder to make a comment about the paper. It's unexpected, sometimes disconcerting, and we all like to have our privacy and not have to wear our "work hats" all the time. It is kind of funny when it happens to someone else, but it makes me glad that I have maintained at least some anonymity.

This leads me to the topic of putting pictures and details of one's life on the Internet.

It seems like every time I check my e-mail or bump into an acquaintance at the bank or the local coffee shop, someone is telling me to "check out" their Facebook page. They're all telling me how much fun it is and that I need to get one too.

Just in case there's any of you out there who don't know what Facebook is, I liken it to the MySpace for the more (chronologically) mature generation. It's an Internet social-networking website that apparently nearly everyone I know in my age group has signed up for.

While I'd like to look at their Facebook pages, I can't do so without signing up myself. Every time I get an e-mail invitation to look at my friends' Facebook pages, I respond with something about wanting to keep my privacy. They then relay fairly convincing information about how you can control the privacy and they cite that even cops have Facebook pages.

The Oakdale Leader also has a Facebook page, but don't ask me what it's like because I'm not eligible to view it.

My class reunion is coming up this year and, of course, there's a Facebook page for it too. I've heard it contains the details about the reunion, it's the place to R.S.V.P. and so on. The other night, a girlfriend of mine who now lives in Texas called me quite late. I answered, thinking it was an emergency, but she informed me that she was just looking at the Facebook page for the reunion and saw all these old high school pictures, some of which included me, and that I needed to sign up for Facebook. I really want to see all these pictures that a classmate posted from our teen years, but I only get the privilege of doing so if I'm a member. That just goes against my grain. It reminds of that credit card commercial that "membership has its privileges."

People have told me that they've reconnected with people on Facebook that they lost track of over the years. They peruse through old photos from high school and college on the pages and get caught up in the nostalgia. I can see the appeal of that.

However, there is a downside to catching up with people from your past. I prefer that some people just stay in the past. This includes old flames, former colleagues, cast out frenemies and people I just never liked in the first place.

It would be embarrassing to "friend" one of these people to let them view my page, thinking bygones are bygones, and then have them try to rekindle the past. Or worse, maybe they just want to spy or have some other hidden agenda. Then I'd have to eighty-six them from my page like an unruly bar patron. Of course, I don't have to "friend" them in the first place, I could just choose the "ignore" option. But that creates a different situation and people would get offended because no one likes to be rejected.

Some people "friend" everyone who's interested in viewing their page, I guess it makes them feel popular to say they have lots of "friends," but I'm more discriminating. I prefer to keep certain types at bay, but I also don't want to come off as a snob to decent people who I might choose to "ignore" online. It's just that I prefer to keep my circle of friends fairly small and you really don't know if people have changed for the better or worse over the last 15 to 20 years. Some could have been serving 15 to 20 for all I know. Not only that, it's just that you never know what's truly going on over the Internet. I've recently read that there are companies that can completely spy on people online and compile all that information for a low fee to whoever wants it.

Still, Facebook offers a way for me to keep up with friends who live far away and I don't get to see very often. I can view their photos and share mine with them. There are also those high school photos on the class reunion page that I'd really like to see.

I don't know, I feel torn. I guess more research on my part is required. If I do sign up, I'll be one of the few who makes sure that my page settings are much more private than the default. It's important to remember that over-sharing is pretty much never a good thing.

Dawn M. Henley is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at or by calling 847-3021.