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K, an old friend, got back in touch after a few years yesterday, and while composing my reply to him I googled him and his wife, E, to see what they have been up to recently.

I discovered that they had had a bizarre and unpleasant experience a couple of years ago at the hands of a blogging advice columnist. It seems that E was on the phone to her optician in New York while sitting in a cafe in California, and talking too loudly for her neighbour's taste. The blogging advice columnist, rather than saying this directly to E, wrote up the incident in a blog entry including E's full name and phone number, suggesting that readers might like to call her and ask how the new glasses are going. The blog entry, published on a slow news day, got picked up by the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.

This is Not Cool. E made an unconscious mistake, quite possibly with mitigating circumstances of which the advice blogger is unaware (and indeed with one mitigating circumstance - not wanting to leave a small child on her own - which is obvious even from the advice blogger's account). But the lesson the advice blogger gives us is not "don't talk loudly on your mobile phone in cafes" but "it's cool to publish the names and phone numbers of total strangers and urge others to mock them".

You might have thought that rule #1 for any advice columnist would be that two wrongs don't make a right. Obviously not.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 23rd, 2009 09:02 am (UTC)
Yikes, how awful!
Jul. 23rd, 2009 09:49 am (UTC)
Really awful. Journalists really use their power shamefully at times.
Jul. 23rd, 2009 09:52 am (UTC)
My immediate thought was "has Nicholas given me enough information for me to be able to identify his friend with some judicious Google searches?"

You'll be pleased to know that the answer seems to be "no."
Jul. 23rd, 2009 10:20 am (UTC)
That's beyond bad etiquette, and into "erm, that sounds a lot like actionable harassment" (although IANAL).
Jul. 23rd, 2009 10:50 am (UTC)
It certainly sounds like a case for m'learned friends. Publishing somebody's phone number without permission is heading towards invasion of privacy.
Jul. 23rd, 2009 12:01 pm (UTC)
Gosh, I guess it was better to humiliate someone on a national level than to ask politely if she'd lower her voice. Because talking too loudly on a mobile phone is like a mortal sin. And nobody, but nobody has ever done anything as vile. I mean, people could die because of someone talking too loudly on a mobile phone. Wars could break out. Civilization could come to an end.

And worse, some journalists would be unable to demonstrate how important and powerful they are.

No, we can't have this talking-too-loud-on-a-mobile-phone thing.
Jul. 23rd, 2009 01:24 pm (UTC)
"O the embarrassment.... All die!"
Jul. 23rd, 2009 01:23 pm (UTC)
Good lord! I remember seeing that post and being shocked at the time....
Jul. 23rd, 2009 02:04 pm (UTC)
Seems like a pattern
Which is to say the use of IT to substitute instead of compliment direct human communication. That blogger was a coward.
Jul. 23rd, 2009 03:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Seems like a pattern
But it's common human behaviour that when we find something irritating or objectionable, we don't address the problem directly, we bite our tongue at the time (so as not to cause a scene) and then afterwards and in other social circles we tell the story again and again of how objectionable this other person was.

However, the RESPONSIBLE thing to do would be to treat the person anonymously. Outing somebody by name - and in particular giving out their phone number! - is utterly reprehensible, and normally the sotr of behaviour which, one would have thought, would come back to bite the advice blogger in question.

Indeed, if I can track this story down, I will be contacting said blogger to let them know how appalling their behaviour is and why they should be utterly ashamed...
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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