Okay, I am probably going to get a lot of flack for this blog post, but I am writing it anyway and I don’t really give a damn. If someone can give me a compelling reason to think I am wrong, I am happy to hear it.
So, yesterday I posted a few pictures of packages I have received on Twitter. I had several of my friends reach out to me to ask me if I meant to post my address on Twitter.
I didn’t post it on purpose, but I didn’t think that it was that big of a deal. I understand that one of the big things that tech feminists have been mentioning people doing to terrorize them is to “dox” them by posting their phone numbers and addresses on malicious websites where people who mean them harm can see them.
I am not in any way discounting how terrifying that can be and they have every right to be upset by that behavior, but this is my take on things…
Back in 1985…
Back when I was growing up we had these things called “phone books.” They were large books that arrived in the mail each year that had a listing of the names and addresses of every person who lived in your county. If I wanted to look up a classmate’s phone number, I could haul this stupid large book out and look up their last name. Sometimes there were a few people that all had the same name and you would have to call a few of them to find the right person.
We didn’t have caller ID, so you never knew who was calling you. You couldn’t block malicious numbers, but most calls weren’t malicious. More often than not it was a telemarketer and you learned after a while that if you picked up on the first ring and there was a long pause it was probably a telemarketer and you hung up on them.
Having your address and phone number publicly available didn’t used to be a big deal.
My address is publicly available. Wisconsin (for now) has open records. I went through a divorce last year and never moved. You can go to the Wisconsin Circuit Court access and look me up and find out where I live.
Back when I was starting out I was really stupid and printed my home address on my business cards. I handed these out for a while before I realized this was a really stupid fucking thing to do and got new ones printed that only had my personal phone number on them. Then I just started handing out pug stickers with no identifying information whatsoever on them.
Point is, if someone wants to find out where I live, it’s not hard.
I know there is an outside chance that someone I don’t know will show up at my door and do something to me, but that possibility doesn’t worry me very much. I live in a town in rural Wisconsin that has no public transportation. Most of the developers I am aware of who live in my area live in downtown Madison because it means they don’t have to have a car. In order to get out to where I live they have to find a car and drive half an hour to where I am. My parents live closer than that and even they don’t like to drive to where I live. That’s just the people who live here. If you’re some asshole in The Bay Area you would have to fly and drive out here to mess with me.
Every one of my neighbors has a gun. I have had my neighbors call my parents when my ex husband and I got home early from a trip and they saw someone moving around in my house.
If someone intends to harm me, it would take a lot of trouble and money for them to do so. My not publicly posting my address somewhere is not going to prevent someone who is intent on harming me from doing so. I also will not hesitate to call the cops if someone shows up that I don’t know and didn’t invite.
Of all the things I worry about, having a stranger show up at my house is pretty low on my list.
I worry about my house burning down while I am at a conference. I worry about my pugs choking on something and dying. I worry about losing my job and having to relocate to San Francisco because no one will let me work remotely.
I am willing to accept the possibility that at some point in the future someone could show up at my house with the intention to harm me. Someone could send a bomb in the mail to hurt me and my pugs. Any number of things could happen.
I just think the odds of that happening is so unlikely that I don’t think it honestly matters that much if I inadvertently post a picture of my address on Twitter.
I don’t want to spend every waking moment of my life worried that someone out there is out to get me.
My personal experience with this community has been that it has been incredibly supportive. I wrote several blog posts recently during a bout of depression and I had at least five people reach out to me personally via phone and email to support me and give me helpful advice.
I know a number of people have been poorly treated by strangers on the internet and I empathize with them. I know that a well known female developer in Madison was stalked by another developer in Madison and that was completely not okay. She went to a lot of trouble to hide her address, which was not publicly available, and had it revealed by the police to someone who had presented a clear and real danger to her. I am not trying to discredit her experiences by saying that because nothing bad has happened to me so far that her fears are irrational.
I took down the photos because enough people seemed worried about it. But I just find it strange that a bunch of people acted like I posted my social security number and my credit card number on Twitter and just trusted people to not steal my identity or show up at my house and murder me. I have found 98% people to generally be decent and respectful. I would prefer to focus on that percentage rather than judge on the smaller number who make life difficult. If I am proven wrong I will be the first to admit it. But I would like to give people the benefit of the doubt that they are not planning to attack me just because they can find out where I live.