Saturday, November 29, 2014

Being a public presence in private (or vice versa)

I keep reading things about privacy on the Internet and how to keep it. Friends are posting statements on Facebook about what they do and don't permit the social media giant to make use of. It makes a lot of sense, I know, but for me I think it's really too late. Actually, it's always been too late. The thing is, ever since I bought my barge in 2001, it (the Vereeniging) has been an object of curiosity around the world and has consequently graced the world wibe web in a variety of forms ever since. You think I'm exaggerating, don't you? Well, let me explain.

Firstly, the interest was local. When we brought the Vereeniging back to Rotterdam from the town of Grave in the east of the country where I bought it, the man who helped us wrote an article about my engine and posted it on an internet site about traditional Dutch marine engines. In it, he named my barge and me, so before I even had a blog or any other presence on the net, there I was. The web had me entrapped before I could even do anything about it.

Alas, I can no longer find the page, but here is the engine in question in full swing.

Industrie single cylinder engine

It was then some years before I decided to start this blog. However, during this time, my barge was the subject of many a tourist's photo, an artist's painting and a historian's interest. Many of these have somehow found their way onto the internet, and in the case of history articles, my name has been mentioned too as the Vereeniging's owner. What's more, if you look on the photo website, Flickr, and put Oude Haven into its search field, there we will be several photos that include the Vereeniging in them somewhere. Then there are the artists who decorate the quayside, drawing and painting as if no one has ever done this before. Bless them. They post these pictures on the Internet to garner public interest in what they do - hardly surprising, as our harbour is very picturesque.

Here is a water colour painting of the harbour that I happened to come across and is one of many that is floating around our world wide web. See the Vereeniging on the far right. I don't know who painted it, but I really like it.

Water colour painting - artist not known

Apart from this, if anyone cares to type my name into Google, they will find several pages of entries about my books and my blog. Since both have been around since 2006, this means any attempt at anonymity is likely to be slightly useless. So what do I do? I'm on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. What chance do I have when my professional and personal life are liberally plastered over the walls of the web?

Well, the answer is not very much. But I think the point is that I have a museum exhibit of a barge, so it's natural that it will be the subject of fairly wide interest. Added to that, I have written two memoirs about my experiences with my Vereeniging, and both of these are available to whoever cares to read them.
The Vereeniging in 2001
As regards my private life, well, surprising though it might seem, that is still very private. I rarely say anything about my daily life, my work, my family or my relationships on the Internet, or even in my books. I write about my barge and the life I experience around me. That's it. It's kind of like hiding in plain sight, and for me it works. I sometimes cringe at the number of entries I can find referring to me in the search engines, but for all that, I'd challenge anyone to know what I have actually been doing and where I've been today. I only ever publish what it suits me to do so. The rest remains between me and my family and friends.

It's taken some practice, but I think I've nailed being a public presence in private quite well. My barge has taught me that. So, designers and programmers of Facebook, Google and any other sites out there, do what you will, try as you might - you'll only find out what I choose to tell you!


  1. I had no idea you and your Vereeniging were such a public presence on the internet! I, too, value my own privacy and I am careful where I go and what I say. I may allude to what is going on in my life, but that only scratches the surface. If I Google my name, I can't find myself... :P However, if it were not for the internet, I would indeed miss our valuable friendship, Val Poore! :) xx
    On a slightly different note, the water colour of your beloved Oude Haven is beautiful!!

  2. You have expressed very clearly pretty much exactly how I feel about this matter. Ironic that being a writer these days is about presenting self to the world in order to promote one's work, when in times past, authors could remain shadowy figures if they chose to. However, we do have control and should exercise it over personal privacy. I'm shocked by the way some people post very private things on FB, revealing enormous amounts about themselves and their families (who are entitled not to have their privacy infringed thus). Parents have, I think, a serious responsibility to make their children know and understand that self-revelation can be used against them even years and years afterwards. My husband was most reluctant to appear in my own social networking activities, having seen first hand how cyber-bullying, for example, frequently happens in schools; he has, as you know, stepped out of the shadows once. I doubt if he'll do it again. I'm very cautious with Facebook and am not prepared to respond to its repeated requests to complete my profile, giving it a wealth of information by so doing. However, I don't limit access, for I need as an author to support my writing; I just think very, very carefully about what I publish.

  3. I'm like you Val, I don't give much personal or family stuff out on social media to keep my private and public lives separate - I think it's the best we can do

  4. Thanks, Dale. It's a little sobering to page through Google and see how often my barge, my books and I are listed, but I take comfort in knowing I've always been careful about what I've published! And yes, without the Internet, we'd never have 'met'! I'm very glad we did, my friend! xx

    Christina, it's the dilemma of a writer, isn't it? To some extent, we have to be visible, but how far that goes is up to us. As you say, we need to be very judicious. Like your husband, my family are nearly all in the teaching profession, so they know only too well about cyber bullying, and one of them has been the victim of it on Facebook too. Very unpleasant!

    Chris, you're right. It's finding the balance isn't it? We have to show enough to be human, but also protect our family's privacy too.

  5. I think you balance it very well, Val, and love hearing about the Vereeniging while being aware that your private life is just that - private!
    That is a gorgeous watercolour, and how fun it is for your barge to be in there. I am wondering what are the tall red arch arrangements on the left?
    The old building is beautiful; you live in a lovely spot in Oude Haven.
    I am glad I found you on the internet!

  6. I couldn't agree more Val - it is a balance with getting your name out there for your books and keeping private, and you do it very well....

  7. Thank you, Patricia. I'm really glad I met you here too, and would love to meet you in person one of these days!

    Jackie, thank you for that. You know so well what it means, especially as you also share your life with us in your book. it's a fine line that we have to draw :)

  8. Hi Val - it's a way of life .. we get on the net before we really realise what is what. Thankfully I've always been fairly careful and certainly don't want to bring in the family and some friends as they're not interested ...

    But as long as we're normal .. I'd hope we'll be all right. I certainly don't post some things ...

    Think before you type ... but excellent post .. and I love that painting .. wonderful .. perhaps you can get it printed up as a poster ... I did that with a few pictures for my mother and we had them on her walls and in fact her ceiling ...

    Cheers Hilary

  9. "So, designers and programmers of Facebook, Google and any other sites out there, do what you will, try as you might - you'll only find out what I choose to tell you!"

    No problem there Val: We will just fictionalise you. Necessity being the mother of invention ! :-)

  10. I do understand Val. My work was on the web a lot in the 90's then I ceased trading, moved to Ireland and thought it had gone but there are still loads of sites & blogs which use my older paintings - usually not credited!
    Now that I blog and am on FB I have come to terms with having a bit more of a public presence but I manage to keep my private life private - I hope.
    A question of balance I think.

  11. Thank you, Hilary! I think many of us have learnt how much we should and shouldn't put on the Internet, but I do worry about young people sometimes. they just say everything and anything!

    Mel, I laughed at your comment, but I fear you could be right! Facebook is always trying to make up my personal information for me because I refuse to give it!

    Jane, yes, it's that balance that we have to be so aware of, isn't it? Thank you!

  12. I had no idea you were so famous Val,lol! I'll have to google your name. I suppose I say too much about myself on my blog but as I want it to be there for my grandchildren and want them to know about my younger life as well as my present one there's not much I can do. Everyone I have been in contact with has been nice,I've had no trolls or suchlike to make me worried. I would like to cut down on friends on Facebook as I don't know why some are there as they never communicate with me. I love the painting with your barge in it I hope he sent you a copy.

  13. Anne, it's awful, really. I wish it actually meant I was 'rich and famous'! That would at least be a consolation :) I think everyone needs to choose how much they say on the Internet. It's always up to the individual, but as long as we are aware that our information can be used - and not always in a way we would like!

  14. I think you have done a good job in keeping at least some of your life private (the important bits). Unfortunately I can only see that more of our lives will become public as the internet progresses further. Mind you, my surname is Church and when I google my name, all I get are lots of buildings all over the world named after me and I see that my name is often prefixed with 'Saint' ! Xxx

  15. (Why have I only just found this - is blogger hiding things from me?)

    As a fellow memoir-writer, I share some of your thoughts here, though I don't live as publicly as you do. But, like you, I'm very careful what I share in the blog, on Facebook, or even in the books. I never talk about friends and family without asking them - and never even post photographs of my grandchildren, even though they are the most beautiful grandchildren in the world.

    But young people see things differently. However much we wag our fingers at them and warn of the dangers of Big Brother, they are creating a new world order for themselves. I might not like it - but will defend their right to do things their way. And I'll leap in to protect anyone I know and love from cyber-bullying or any general intrusion.

    Like all change, it's worrying. I still think we're right to be cautious about what we share. But I really hope I'm wrong and the young people who will do things their way whatever I say haven't created something that will destroy their wonderful individuality.

  16. Well done, and me too! Well, you don't even know my real name... and I never post my husband's name, or the name of the town in which I live, or photos of the outside of my house, or the names of firms I've worked for, or what schools I went to, or my date of birth... yet I imagine a lot of people who only know me online would say they know a great deal about me. As Christina says, I am amazed by the personal stuff people post. Actually, I echo everything she said, too!

  17. Love the barge painting Val. The privacy issue is always tricky...sadly we can be tracked more or less wherever we go. I think the thing is, who'd be interested?

  18. Fran, then we have something in common :) You get buildings and I get barges! :) xxx

    Jo, I don't think it's just the young who are at risk and it's alarming how recruiters are able to reach people's social media pages when screening applicants for jobs. I'm just concerned about what the internet giants are doing with our information. Just as a for instance, LinkedIn (my professional page) seems to know about people I've had even the vaguest and most tenuous connection with and I'd dearly like to know how they came by that information. What we say about ourselves is our own risk, but what we say about others is a big responsibility.

    Terry, thank you, as you so rightly say, we can be open and honest without telling the world about our private lives.

    Carol, thanks, but I'm afraid there are a lot of companies who are interested in stuff about us that I would personally prefer not to share. I know we can be tracked, but I'm not willing to voluntarily hand over the information they try and bully me into giving. Facebook is always trying to make up my life for me! Why do they want it anyway? Beats me, but they're not getting :)

  19. Val, our info may be out there for public view but only a precious few get to really know us. That is some consolation. Lynn

  20. You're right, Lynn. I've felt a bit exposed at times because of where I live, but I'm used to that now. I've learnt how to be a museum exhibit and still retain some privacy :)


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