Jack Ohman

Privacy and Twitter: everyone's Big Brother now...

Over the course of my 35 year career, I have had a few brushes with national attention. Normally, I'm used to this sort of thing, but my face isn't really known to anyone and I am sure there are lots of weekend weathermen at KCRA who have a higher name ID than I do. That's the nature of television. Plus, cartoonists aren't exactly The Beatles.

I used to work on the ABC News Nightline program as a freelance artist in 1984. I got to know Ted Koppel in passing, and he took me out for a few meals. One of the things he noted about being well-recognized is that he had a hard time going out in public to accomplish simple tasks, such as going to the hardware store. He once told me that people usually said two things to him in public, one of which is repeatable: "Hey, I go to bed with you every night." Another woman I know who is a well-known news anchor said she got hundreds of letters a week commenting on her personal appearance.

This is what it's like to be really well-known in America. Your job happens to be informing people on television, and the next thing you know, they're offering you helpful grooming hints. Maybe that's not what you signed up for.

In the Twitter environment, not only do people have the opportunity to give you hairstyle tips (my understanding is that a nickname developed for me on some SacBee comment threads regarding my own hair, which I won't repeat, either), they also can literally track you like a dog in public.

A few days ago, my son and I happened to make a quick stop at a gas station in Portland. I was making a comfort stop. I didn't recognize anyone there, but someone recognized me. Not only that, it was someone I was personally acquainted with and like. For some reason, he chose not to say, "Hey, Jack, how are you doing?"

He decided to tweet about my restroom visit.

"@JACKOHMAN sighting; NE Broadway and Grand, Shell station."

Now, why anyone in the world would be interested in my personal appearance at a gas station at Broadway and Grand is beyond me, but my friend was. So the exciting and dramatic bulletin that I had checked out the can was sent out to all his followers. This Twitter Special Report was noted by several other followers of his, who were also friends of mine.

"Wow. Just wow," was one of the messages I got on my phone, noting that I hadn't called the texting person and that I was in trouble. 

All I was trying to do was visit my kids, go to a wedding, and mind my own business eating Slurpees in a secure, undisclosed location. I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. 

Privacy is an increasingly rare commodity in the United States. Our own government, we now know, is like the 21st century version of the 1900's eavesdropping party line operator. The NSA goes through our personal business with a disturbing joie de vivre. I am quite certain most American citizen's personal text traffic would not stand the U.S. Senate confirmation process. 

So the next time you see some poor minor league celebrity and/or friend at the gas station trying to make a quick pit stop, have pity on him. Don't tweet about it. You can do something more substantive.

Maybe you can buy him a Slurpee.