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You know you're an adult when your e-mail grows up

POSTED: July 17, 2010 1:32 p.m.

There comes a point in your life when you grow up.

It used to be the time you realized you can’t wear jeans every day and bought yourself a “nice suit of clothes.”

But there is not much difference these days in what people wear to the office and what they might wear to a picnic.

For some, it was the point that they quit calling you by your nickname. I remember a kid I went to school with and we called him “Oopie.” I don’t remember his real name. I just can’t imagine going into a bank or a law firm and asking for Oopie.

Perhaps the new point of growing up is when you get yourself a grown up e-mail address.

If you don’t have any concept of the Internet or e-mails, let me try to offer a little insight.

When all of this Internet business was invented by Al Gore, one of the most popular places to go was America Online, or AOL. There were lots of chat rooms where you could go and discuss everything from old cars to young girls. I don’t think anybody used their real names.

Later, on places like MySpace, you also gave yourself a fake name. There have been songs written about this. Nobody wants to talk to a fat guy without a job who lives in his mother’s basement. On the Internet, you can call yourself “Tallhotsexyguy” even though you’re “Shortfatloser.”

Eventually, there is a time you need to be a grown-up. Most big companies now accept job applications only by e-mail. If you apply as “dawgfan,” “cutethang” or “tangirl,” they may not take you seriously.

I am told that many college professors will not accept papers submitted on a nickname e-mail address. You have to put your real name out there. While you can still wear flip-flops on your tattooed feet, there are times you have to join the grown-up world.

A friend of mine, who is a fellow newspaper columnist, asked a question recently (online, of course), “Was there really life before Google?”

Google is one of the most popular search engines on the Internet. I use it many times a day. Sometimes, when I am trying to confirm facts for this column, I turn to Google. Sometimes I Google my own name to see if any of my columns were picked up or quoted somewhere else. But Google is only as good as what is on the Internet. Often, it’s not the truth.

The unfortunate thing about the Internet is the number of creepy people who hide behind the anonymity it offers. There are people who want to look at improper pictures or try to steal your identity. There are also people who use the anonymity to say untrue and damaging things about people.

The sad thing is that folks believe it. I’ve had people call me about some outlandish tale and tell me their source of information was an e-mail.

There are chain e-mails that contain false stories about everything from non-existent sick kids to people in dire straits who really aren’t.

I don’t know if it will ever change, but as sure as my name is handsomeskinnyguy, I’ll keep hoping.

Harris Blackwood is a columnist for The Times. His column appears every week in Sunday Life.


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