USA Today tells the story of a guy who went online to tell all the world about his vacation as it unfolded -- and came home to a burglarized house.
I think that one of the reasons social media was invented was to satisfy the primal human need to boast. Go on, admit it: You've gone online simply to notify everyone you know that you're browning on a tropical beach, dining at a fancy restaurant, or basking in the purchase of an expensive piece of electronics. The problem is that many of us have friended people we hardly know on Facebook or MySpace. If you give away too much in status updates and blogs, you're literally advertising the fact that your home is empty, or even what's in it.
It's funny, but only for a second. Then you start thinking, "Wait, now. Have I ever done that, too?"
Facebook is one thing. At least there, you have control over which people are up in your business, and if you manage your settings, you can ensure that only your trusted friends will know that you're in Mazatlan instead on on Main Street. But the burgled fellow in question, Israel Hyman, is big on Twitter, where there are no such controls, and where messages can be re-posted without your knowledge, spreading like wildfire.
It reminds me of an urban legend dating to 1956, when the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady was the hottest ticket in America. A few enterprising con-men managed to buy up pairs of seats, and then mailed them out to couples in the nicest part of the suburbs. The couples didn't know who sent them the tickets, but they certainly weren't going to be so impolite as to pass up the chance to see Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. You know the ending: The night they attended, the burglars swooped in, knowing their homes would be empty.
I don't know if that's true, but it has the ring of truth, doesn't it? And it has its everyday applications, too. Every time I'm at a theme park, be it Disneyland or some other resort destination, there's invariably someone standing in line in front of me who's carrying a day-pack that's clearly tagged with their home address. If I were a bad person, it wouldn't take much for me to note the address and do some serious damage -- after all, I know the whole family is standing right there in line at Space Mountain.
So do yourself a favor and tightly control who knows you're gone. Don't get a luggage tag onto which you have to write your address. Get one that holds a business card, and then flip it around so that the only person who can access your address is one who already has your luggage and is trying to reunite you with it. And don't brag to the universe online unless you've got nothing to lose.
Of course, I don't have to worry when I go away. That's because I adopted a very angry, very hyper, very hungry dog. Remember that you read about it online.
When the cat's away: Don't tell Twitter you're vacationing