Friday, June 27, 2014

To Stalk or Not to Stalk? That IS the question.

We are living in an time in which everyone and their mother can be (and probably is) a bit of an Internet creeper.

"I just happened to be driving by his house...five or six times...completely NORMAL THINGS!"

Now that 80% of our lives (the photogenic part, anyway) is available online for public consumption, it seems that it’s practically expected that there is going to be some serious Facebook stalking going on. Or Twitter stalking. Or Instagram stalking…I guess LinkedIn stalking too, but that seems like a last ditch effort to find dirt (plus, the object of your surveillance receives notification of it on LinkedIn which kind of defeats the purpose—keep that in mind the next time you’re desperate for intel on a blind date).  Potential paramours will scour your profile for common interests; former classmates will read up on your current whereabouts and activities; someone for whatever reason will probably hate-read your posts.

And if you’re being honest with yourself, you probably do the same things too. I know that I have.

My question is this—in the Internet age, what amount of reconnaissance before a date is considered the new normal?

I had coffee not too long ago with a new acquaintance who was telling me about an almost date she’d had recently with with a guy she met through mutual friends; however, after hanging out with him a couple of times in a group setting, she was getting a weird vibe. He wanted to take her out, but he wanted her to meet him at his place first. And maybe they could take her car because…reasons. It all seemed a little off to her, she said, and her gut was screaming, “red flag!”

Now most of us would probably take to the ‘book to find out more information (yes, I just referred to Facebook as the ‘book—I am ashamed), or maybe even do a closed quotation search on Google if you’re fancy, but this girl was resourceful. And by that, I mean she was literally full of resources; as a lawyer, she had access to all kinds of databases, which she used judiciously and found out that this guy had not one, not two, but several DUIs on his record. Suddenly his insistence on her driving made a lot more sense, and she backed out of the date…because reasons.

Now, in this case, a bit of background checking paid off. I would want to know if the guy I was going out with (and especially riding with) had multiple drunk driving offenses on his record. Granted, probably not all pre-date stalking would turn up that kind of information. So what should be considered over-the-top versus what is simply doing your due diligence as an Internet savvy woman aware of the dangers in the world around her? When should mystery trump history?

I’ve talked before about the dangers of getting to know someone online as it gives us a false sense of intimacy—we may think we know a person because we’ve scoured their various social media profiles, but we don’t.

I read an article last year on Relevant in which author Shauna Niequist summed up this idea well.

“My life looks better on the Internet than it does in real life. Everyone’s life looks better on the internet [sic] than it does in real life. The Internet is partial truths—we get to decide what people see and what they don’t. That’s why it’s safer short term. And that’s why it’s much, much more dangerous long term.”

Those partial truths are hella tempting though, and I have (on more than one occasion, I regret to say), become besotted with someone’s Internet presence before I really got to know them as a person.

Sidebar: The reverse has happened to me too—it’s a new kind of depressing to realize that you don’t live up to the unrealistic expectations set up by your own Facebook profile.

What we choose to put online often is not a well-rounded picture of who we are as people—we are so much more than the sum of our Facebook likes and Instagrammed photos of inanimate objects.

Sidebar: My Instagram account is almost exclusively pictures of books, food, mugs of tea, and alcoholic beverages. Read into that what you will.

So, in the spirit of turning over new leaves and out of respect for the damage it can cause a relationship before it even gets off the ground, here’s what I’m going to (try) to do. No more pre-date stalking. I promise not to Google prematurely*, or read three months worth of backtweets, or analyze the body language displayed in every picture Mr. X was tagged in with a person of the opposite sex in 2010. I am going to choose mystery over history—at least for the time being. I’ll let you know how it goes ;)

*Unless I’m going out with a relative stranger with no one to vouch for him, in which case I deem it perfectly acceptable to contact a lawyer friend to do a little digging on the TxDPS databases.

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