The strangest damn thing

>> Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I'm not a hundred percent sure why I even have a landline, but I do. Very 20th Century of me, I know. Maybe it's a habit, a residual thing; I think I might be very nervous to not have a landline, even though my landline is a digital line through the cable company and therefore doesn't even have the passive power available to it that a good old fashioned copper wire Bell/AT&T line has.

Anyway, the strangest damn thing: I'm sitting at home, surfing the web and waiting for dinner to heat up in the oven, when the landline rings. "Unknown number," the display says, but I pick it up, figuring what the hell. If it's a pollster wanting to talk to me about the election last week, I might even talk to them, just so they know not every American is so bloody crazy they'll vote the party that screwed the country up back into power just because the party that let the party that screwed it all up can't fix the screwups fast enough or competently enough to matter much, it seems.

There's a young lady on the other end, who asks for me by my first name, which is usually a clue that the call is coming from somebody I have a credit card with, wanting to offer me additional services that I'll decline. I don't go by my first name otherwise, notice the initial in the sidebar before the "Eric." I gently correct the young lady's mispronunciation of my last name--and she does sound suspiciously young, like a teenager--and ask her who's calling and why. Come to think of it, I don't think she ever gave me her name.

But she asks me if I'm married, which is weird as hell, and I ask her how she got the number, which is unlisted, and she tells me she got it from her friend, "Mariah," and I tell her I don't know any Mariahs, which (as far as I can recall) is absolutely true, not a single damn one unless it was a client I represented some time in the longlongago, which isn't impossible. The young lady gets a bit nervous and repeats that she got the number from Mariah and I wish her a good evening and end the call.

This bugs the hell out of me, you know. This may sound weird coming from a guy who's on Twitter and who blogs bits'n'pieces of his life and what passes for a mind, and who has basically abandoned the idea of privacy as being nearly obsolete, but I'm a little insecure and paranoid. I mean, this may seem like a tangent, but with some of the recent controversies over the backscatter X-ray machines in airports and some flying planned for next year, I was even thinking about whether or not I cared about the TSA folks seeing an incarnation of my flabby body as a hairless Harkonnenic nightmare in grey and I figured, why the fuck not, seeing as how they can see the inside of my brain on Giant Midgets, and which is more personal. Anyway, seems to me the loss is more theirs (sanity, innocence, lunch) than mine (do I even know when I last saw my dignity?).

So, as I was saying: insecure and paranoid. I have, I think--and here we're back to that whole "privacy is meaningless business" with a public proffer of the private psyche--I have, I think, control issues going back to various childhood and adolescent thises and thatses that we won't go into, and having my "sanctum" violated with this girl saying Mariah (who?) gave her my number and am I married? perturbs me. Who is this person? How did she really get my number? Or, if there's some truth in her statement, who is Mariah and how did she get my number? Is this some phishing scam? Was I about to be socially engineered? In even answering the phone did I have my name checked off on some sort of list as a confirmed existence, a name-plus-number to be used in credit card applications and mail-orders? Have I given away too much or averted some disaster? I told her I wasn't married, didn't I, and corrected the pronunciation of my name, didn't I?

Or what if there's something darker and less-anonymous at work? It would be vainglorious to say I have "enemies," but it's also not unreasonable to say there are people who don't like me very much, witnesses or victims I've pissed off, former clients who blame me for some suboptimal result; a man sitting in prison for a number of years is, sadly, more likely to blame his lawyer than his judge or jury, much less his own mistakes in committing a crime or getting caught doing it. Indeed, it's inevitable that some folks will overflow with gratitude for their attorney the day they walk out of court with a plea deal guaranteeing a suspended sentence and probation and then nonetheless curse his name with a vengeance months later when they're facing a probation violation hearing arising from some subsequent misbehavior or failing.

These things we think of when we've been discomfited.

So what do I do when I get off the phone? I go to the computer and I do a Google search for my landline number, and here I get a nasty little surprise.

My unlisted, private number? It's in Google's phone listing. It's in AT&T's RealPages Live, i.e. the digital scan of the big fat phonebook nobody uses anymore. My number, it's everywhere. With my name. With, specifically, my last name misspelled the way it was originally misspelled by my current landline provider for quite a while before I finally got them to fix it. With my address. My address and adorable little maps pinpointing it. Some of the maps are made from satellite photographs and show my neighborhood as it appears from a telescope somewhere in outer space. Bloody hell.

Why do I even have the private listing, then? Why do I pay for it? What does it even matter.

So I canceled the private listing, saving me three bucks a month that I spent for no apparent reason and to no apparent good. I suppose I could cancel the landline altogether, but what's done is done. I could cancel my less-than-satisfactory-overall dealings with my phone-and-Internet provider, except, actually, I think my only other Internet option then becomes a return to AT&T, a company I loathe with the passion of a hundred white-hot suns... well, maybe not that many, maybe just, I don't know: the passion of a non-energy-saving incandescent lightbulb that's been left on for several hours; anyway, I don't like them and I had shitty service from them back in the day, which is how I ended up with the current provider. (I haven't dropped the name to protect them, by the way, but as one last shred of forcing someone to guess who my phone provider might be, not that it matters or would be hard to guess. And no, I'm not inviting people to guess. That game would just be stupid and pointless and easy.)

Why the post? Because privacy has become so pointless the pretense it has life to it should be abandoned and indeed it should be punctured, punched in the face, dropkicked to its knees, murderized like a horny jock working a summer job at Camp Crystal Lake? As a way of seizing back some pretense of control over my public incarnation by boldly announcing the privacy I unofficially didn't have left is now officially abandoned? Or maybe this is a post to help identify where the bodies are: when I am accused of a nine-state spree of bad checks and stolen rental cars and imprisoned for decades, my defenders should check the phone records of November 9th and ask around for "Mariah and her friend."

Meanwhile, it's a hell of a strange damn thing. I hope it doesn't keep me awake. Knowing me, it might.


timb111 Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 9:37:00 AM EST  

Your first name wasn't too hard to find either Mr. Public Defender. Given the type of people you work for/with (not to mention some of the people who comment here) I'd think it would be important not to be easily located.

I googled my unlisted phone number with my last name and didn't get any hits. Maybe I'm safe.

Eric Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 10:14:00 AM EST  

Yeah, and my age and marital status and all sorts of other goodies are just floating around out there, too, I'm afraid. Estimated value of my home, street-level views of my residence, my approximate income level is out there--but, then again, so is my exact salary as a matter of public record, if you know where to look.

And what's rough is that much of this information--most of it--wasn't put out by me. Like I said, I've willingly given up a certain amount of privacy by way of social media, but I never authorized the State Bar to release my home address (a horse that left the barn more than a decade ago) and I still don't know how the fuck that phone number got loose. I understand the need for transparency in government mandating that my salary be public record--although to be honest, it bothered me less before I realized how much collateral information about me is just floating around as well: prior residences, educational history, the names of relatives, etc., etc.

You know, all of a sudden having my biometrics filed away and mandating biometric information be required for any major credit or loan transaction seems a little less totalitarian or whatever. I hate to say it out loud (though anyone paying attention will have figured it out ages ago, well before this blog post), but I do believe a good 80% of the information required to apply for a credit card on my behalf is just out there (cue theremins) and would remain out there (again) even if I shut down the blog, closed my Twitter account, and completely withdrew myself into a shell. And it would remain out there (reprise) even if I began the Sisyphean task of calling up every single aggregator and formally requesting removable items be withdrawn (some matters like my income being public so long as I work for the State).

It's a little terrifying to look at, actually....

Mrs. Bitch Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 12:18:00 PM EST  

R. Eric, R. Eric, R. Eric! Such a babe in the woods. When Mariah's little pre-pubescent friend called you were supposed to tell her your nickname is ChestertheMolester, pant erotically into the phone, ask her if she's still a virgin and if she's wearing undies, and set up a meeting to teach her the ins and outs (mwahahaha) of becoming a real woman.

I'm with you on the privacy thing. I had all hopes that my blog, which is really just a place to vent and does NOT represent what I'm actually like in person (well, okay, maybe it does a little), would never be tied to my actual name. Unfortunately, I think anyone with my email addy can find that through the wonderful Google apps of Friend Connect or Buzz or whatever.

Actually, surprisingly little comes up for my name except my business site info, which doesn't have my address attached. :) Or, maybe you guys are better at digging up stuff than I am.

Random Michelle K Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 12:53:00 PM EST  

I checked and our phone number does not come up with my name or Michael's name--at least on any free sites. Pay sites? All bets are off.

But mine is complicated by the fact that our phone number has never been listed, and Michael and I don't have the same last names. Yes, you could eventually put it together, but it wouldn't be easy. Which was my plan.

Eric Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 1:07:00 PM EST  

See, Mrs. B., in my mind you'll always be Qiu Yuen in a housedress. If there's more information out there, I'd rather not look for it, lest the spell be broken.... :)

neurondoc Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 9:29:00 AM EST  

Our phone number has always been listed under TheHusband's name to lessen the likelihood that I would receive unsolicited phone calls at home from patients. That became a moot point as caller ID became de rigeur. All patients had to do was hit redial, anyway.

My salary and direct work phone number are a matter of public record. I found it amusing when some of my coworkers protested that outgoing caller ID identified their direct lines. That was changed to the main number for my group, but all someone has to do is search our name on the appropriate database, and (wham) there's the direct phone number.

We almost never answer our landline and check messages increasingly infrequently.

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