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Your Neighbors' Politics

I heard an interview on NPR the other day with a guy who does background checks -- to find out, among other things, if a potential employee has any criminal record. (See "Bill to Seal Some Illinois Criminal Records, Part Two.") It's amazing just how much information about us is, officially, in the public record. The thing is, it used to be that you needed to hire a professional background checker who knew how to get at it. Either that or have the time yourself to dig through dusty file cabinets all over the country. Say goodbye to all that. Now anybody with a browser and some free time at work can find out a helluva lot about you -- and follow the digital paper trail right to your doorstep. Today, in the NYT, there's
an article on Fundrace.org, where you can check up on your neighbors' politics. Most information about us that's in the public record -- like sex-offense convictions and political contributions -- is public for good reason.... But, you know what, now I'm glad I didn't give any money to that DNC fundraiser who knocked on my door last week.

May 20, 2004 in Private / Public | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Puppy Love Before Caller ID

Mark Morford's column on SF Gate -- which is always brilliant and always leaves me laughing so hard I'm crying -- today celebrates the joy of the crank call and mourns its death at the hands of Caller ID and *69 and Call Screening.

May 19, 2004 in The Social Life of Technology | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

The other night I went back to one of my old haunts: a bar down the street from my office, where I spent many a happy hour and where, for a couple of years, I was on a first-name basis with the bartender (who would serve me "my regular" without asking and who comp'ed me at least one drink from each night's tab). They have redecorated the bar and, I think, tried to make it look like it could be a hipster destination. The bar stools and high tables have been replaced with a row of short booths that all face the center of the room, and where they used to hang goofy caricatures of the regular customers on the wall, there are now mirrors. I'm not too happy about the change in decor, but I had stopped hanging out there a few years ago anyway, when my bartender-friend moved on.

So when we walk in, nobody knows us now, but they greet us anyway -- not by name like they used to, but more like the sales clerks do when you're trying to shop at Banana Republic: too many times and with the forced smile that lets you know they're only acknowledging you because it's company policy and they'll be fired if they don't. I paid (since I was the only one who was drinking seriously), and I put it on a credit card. And when the server returns with the receipt for me to sign, he says, "Thank you, Mister Melican." I'm only momentarily disoriented because, first of all, I've never been introduced to this guy, and secondly, because no one calls me that. My father's name is Mr. Melican. Mine is Jay.

I guess they think this is classy and maybe I'll feel like a regular or like a VIP if they interact with me as if they know who I am. But I know they don't know me from Adam. And it's not like they know my name 'cause I had called ahead to book a table. This guy read my name off my credit card -- which doesn't make me feel all warm and fuzzy and familiar; it's just a little creepy.

For the past few months, I've been working with Christena Nippert-Eng on a study of the stuff that people carry with them in their wallets, so I have been thinking a lot about credit cards and about the nuances of the little exchange that takes place between a customer and a cashier when you hand over a credit card to pay for something. It's one of those great everyday interactions that are just packed with all sorts of subtexts and protocols and posturing and opportunities to be embarrassed. I love that stuff. There's so much more that goes on there than just the financial transaction. And it all revolves around that little piece of plastic.

I've also been working on a paper about the interactions you have with your neighbors, so I sort of felt like I'd struck gold when I read this morning in The New York Times about the parents of one of the Columbine killers -- who still live in the same town -- and how they are coping with the stigma of their son's crime.

"In general, Tom [Klebold] said, 'most people have been good-hearted.' Their friends rallied around. Their neighbors call to warn them if an unfamiliar car lurks in the neighborhood. There is a moment of discomfort when they hand over a credit card at a store, but there have been few bad scenes. One clerk looked at the name and remarked to Susan, 'Boy, you're a survivor, aren't you.'"

Talk about some spoiled identity.

May 15, 2004 in Private / Public | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tourist Gaze

Luc Sante, who teaches the history of photography at Bard College, has a great op-ed piece in today's New York Times under the title Tourists and Torturers. In it he reflects on the photographs from Abu Ghraib -- on the role of new technologies (the digital camera and the Internet) in their existence and rapid, widespread distribution, and, more importantly, on the photographic traditions to which the images themselves belong: souvenirs from early-20th-century lynchings of African-Americans and trophy shots from photo safaris.

May 11, 2004 in The Social Life of Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What to Blog?

I spent all day yesterday trying to get my brand new blog to look just the way I wanted it to. Now it's time for my very first post.... Hmm. What to blog? I don't want to start out with anything too serious; that would be a buzz-kill. I don't want to be one of those professional-pundit bloggers who seem intent on proving they know more about what's going on in their field than anybody else does. But I'm also not so interested in blogging my personal life (mostly because it's not that interesting). So, here are some of my blogging role models. I want my blog to be like theirs...only different.

Marc Escobosa is a friend who lives in California. He's always got good stuff on his blog. He updates it every few days, and he reads all over the web. It's good to keep up with what he's found.

I've never met Anne Galloway, but she shares a lot of my personal interests (design, technology, ethnography, space/place, etc.), and she blogs prolifically at "purse lip square jaw." She's hooked into stuff I like to know about.

Liz Goodman -- whom I have met -- has a blog called "confectious" that I like for the same reason. I think I found Anne Galloway's blog through Liz's.

Then there is this guy -- also named Jay -- whose blog, "the ocean," I find hysterical; it's well written; it's funny but insightful; and it's generally just about his everyday interactions with other people. I have no idea who this guy is. I don't even know how I found his blog. Maybe through Friendster or something....

May 9, 2004 in On Blogging | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


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Updated: May 8, 2004
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