“I know all about you, Adam” she were practically her first words to me, spoken more matter-of-factly than warmly. Indeed, she had a pretty good grasp on my hopes and dreams, my fears and failures… before she had even set eyes on me.
For the rest of this job interview I sat humbled, stunned, uncomfortable… feeling naked, almost violated.
How stupid, I thought afterwards. How could I justify feeling so shy and embarrassed? I proudly and unflinchingly write on the Web for all to see, confident of who I am and what I believe in, so what do I care if someone I meet happens to have Googled me? If they don’t like who I am, I don’t want to work for them anyway. Right? Right?!
How stupid, I thought afterwards. How could I justify being so open? Do I really want my interviewer — who may be a conservative introvert — seeing me as a loudmouth who is unprofessional, overly emotional, and burdened with “too much time” on his hands? Or, worse yet, do I want to be seen as a loose cannon, a risk to the company’s public image and privacy?
Do I want my blog to hamper not only my career, but perhaps even my social life as well, with women worrying that our potential dates or even time in the bedroom will end up as blog fodder for voyeuristic geeks on the Internet?
In the end, it doesn’t even matter that I honorably stick by a rather strict habit of compartmentalizing the Public and Private, refusing to write on my blog about my employers, my roommate, my girlfriends, and so on. Others don’t necessarily know this and — given the lurid examples of tell-all personal diaries online — understandably have reason to fear the worst.
So, in exchange for fleeting moments of catharsis, it seems I’ve created a job-and-dating skunk.
* * *
Ironically, I feel uneasy not only upon realizing the extent of MY cross-exposure, but upon discovering others out of context as well.
I receive a daily mail from Match.com with my potential matches, and today, yet again, one thumbnail photo looked particularly familiar. It happened to be of a woman I recently met in person who is extremely bright, very driven, quite talented, and drop-dead gorgeous. So far so good. But she also happens to be someone I recently interviewed with, indeed, at the same company as the aforementioned “I know all about you, Adam” woman.
Even though this person on match.com had affirmatively placed her profile into the public domain and even though her profile had gotten ‘pushed’ to me, I felt somehow dirty… like a peeping Tom.
And this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Though I haven’t actually written anyone on Match.com for over two years (Lord knows why I still maintain a membership there!), I’ve been freaked out several times by accidentally stumbling upon the profiles of friends, acquaintances, and co-workers. My tomboy’ish and tough friend Julia, oddly transformed into a “Cuddle with me, take me wine-tasting” kind of person?! Mara has tattoos and multiple piercings and is turned on by guys with long hair? I did so NOT want to know that, to see these people this way.
* * *
I always thought I was more open-minded. Easy-going. Carefree. Happy to sneer at uptight non-blogging people. But clearly I am not immune from societal expectations of Context and the resultant alarm at having contextual separations shattered. Seeing my opthamalogist in a speedo at a water park. Being paired up with an ex-girlfriend in a kickboxing class. Having the supermarket clerk recognize the name on my credit card from an online bereavement group.
Sharing can be comforting in controlled contexts, but understandably becomes jarring, confusing, and sometimes even scary when it transcends mental borders. I have over 600 contacts in my Outlook addressbook, for instance, and I’d freak if some of them from one ‘group’ met another or saw the same aspects of my personality and background — and no, I’m not the sort with a strikingly ‘hidden’ life. Logically, I KNOW that people can (and certainly do) Google me, and I’m aware that it’s ridiculously easy to put together a comprehensive-yet-not-truly-complete picture of who I am and what makes me tick in just a few minutes of clicking. But emotionally, I’m unable to feel comfortable with the thought of even my subtlely different facets being on display in a mix-and-match fashion.
Yet I persist in putting myself out there… sharing, trusting, exposing.
Why, then, am I shocked when I learn that others view what I have willingly displayed, when others connect the dots I’ve painted over so many years?
Of course, in the end, little of this matters from a “what do I do next” perspective. The genie is out of the bottle, as they say. I can only hope that others, perhaps becoming eventually similarly exposed themselves, realize that my flaws and emotions are no stranger or scarier or more dysfunctional than theirs. And hopefully, I, too, will learn to face others’ exposure with less trepidation. Nakedness, after all, is only titilating or uncomfortable when everyone is clothed. I anticipate that in the coming years, the Internet will reduce the prominence of everyone’s outer layers. I just hope we’re all prepared.