Service of Small Town or Spooky

April 20th, 2015

Categories: E-Commerce, Internet, Privacy

Small town

I was born and brought up in NYC where life is as anonymous as you want it to be so I’ll never forget my first adult small town experience. I’d just moved into temporary quarters in a North Dakota town—population 300– north of Minot Air Force base and went to do laundry in one of the few businesses. A woman approached me and said, “Are you the wife of the Air Force lieutenant who just moved in to Sheriff Avery’s apartment?” I was. We’d been there one day. Shudder.

bike with boxA year later on an Air Force base in Turkey, a neighbor asked me: “How was your party?” “What party?” I asked. She explained that she’d seen me riding my bicycle with liquor boxes in the basket so she’d assumed we were having a party. Wrong: I needed the boxes, which were empty, to ship home Christmas gifts. Tremble.

apt mailboxThat old familiar uncomfortable feeling is back. We moved three months ago. I was diligent in letting friends and family know our new address as well as the post office, motor vehicles bureau and businesses that send bills. So when I get advertisements and catalogs from businesses from whom I’ve bought nothing, addressed to me or my husband at this address, I wonder: Who sold this information? I can run but I can’t hide.

I also feel stalked when I see something I researched on the Internet haunt me every time I open Facebook or in emails from a website like Amazon that sells the category of item I was looking for or maybe just researching for a work project.

Is what I interpret as intrusive really someone being friendly? Are businesses simply making me feel at home, trying to be nothing more than a helpful pal? Do you think it makes sense for some regulatory body to limit invasion of privacy whether virtual or actual?

Stalking on the Internet

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13 Responses to “Service of Small Town or Spooky”

  1. ASK Said:

    Your post encapsulates what I detest about small town living…as a teenager growing up in a small town, I was always furious when my mother told me that one of our neighbors had seen me pull out of our driveway with a “date” and was that “so-and-so’s” son or a new boyfriend?

    One Saturday, a member of our beach club pulled up in his new car to show it off, then left to go to a party without me. Two hours later, my real date showed up and we went to the movies. This was simply too much for the neighbors; two of them dropped by the house after I left to question my mother about my discipline and “reputation.” My mother later told me she just rolled her eyes, and said, “Well you know teen-agers.”

    Frankly, Jeannie, I think you showed remarkable forbearance…

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Great stories and clearly ones that made a lasting impression.

    The first instance I wrote about was alarming enough so that I was in Jackie Gleason-like “humma humma” mode–speechless–so no restraint there. Being an Air Force wife was shock enough for this city slicker. But Glenburn, ND? We were in this dump of an apartment over Christmas [the idea being we wanted to stay within the housing allowance until we could get base housing]. To save money on postage, before I left NYC, I’d bought beautiful postcards at the Metropolitan Museum of Art featuring crèche scenes. Mrs. Clapper, the postmistress, a lovely woman, shocked me further when she said one day, “I loved your Christmas cards.”

    In the second instance, I was hated enough already because I worked largely to get out of as many officer wives club events as I could, so I put on an ingratiating smile. Some so resented me that they’d enter our backyard and would greet and chat with my husband and ignore me! [I’m still exchaning Christmas cards with others who became dear friends.]

    On the other hand, as I thought more about this topic I wondered about small towns that are horrible to new residents and they interpret “new” as “your grandparents didn’t live here,” or “your great parents didn’t summer here.” There must be a happy medium.

  3. ASK Said:

    In my town I can’t be sure that it was a question of who lived here first as much as it was sheer nosiness and/or boredom. All the people on our street were newcomers who bought land or houses in the ’50s after the war. But I was the only teen-ager on the block…!

  4. J. McCarthy Said:

    I am relatively unfazed by a civilized and orderly small town friendliness, as intrusive as it may seem at times, but I am perturbed by what is going on with the internet.

    Because the world is becoming increasingly overcrowded, it is also becoming far more aggressively disorderly. I have lived and travelled extensively in places where you know that your phone is “tapped” and you don’t leave your home or hotel without a “driver” who is actually a bodyguard and your assurance that either “protection” money has been paid or the host government wishes to keep you alive. It is not a comforting feeling to know that the local “Rule of Law” does not include you, or maybe it is?

    I believe that the invasion of the internet, given its global, borderless reach, by ever more sophisticated forces of evil is unstoppable by any one regulator, and that viable cooperation between all regulators will not happen. Therefore, in self-protection, I chose not to subscribe to “social media.” Nor do I transmit any information over web that I would not want known publically. I am also extremely careful about what financial transactions I execute through it. I urge your readers to take like care.

  5. Donna Boyle Schwartz Said:

    Donna wrote on Facebook: Two different issues, really. Having grown up in a small town, I can confidently say that what you experienced was really an expression of people’s friendliness and urge to make a newcomer feel welcome. (My Mother, the first time she came to visit, tried to say hello to everyone we passed on Madison Avenue….) Advertisements, on the other hand, are intrusive and subversive…because there is a profit motive. Not much you can do about it, however; just learn to ignore it!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    My mother, born and bred in NYC as I was, often spoke with people on the bus and in the hallway of resorts and country hotels she’d say “Good morning,” or “good evening” to those she’d pass in the hallway. If it feels right I still do. And she lived in a small apartment house in Manhattan and knew most of the other residents. But there still was a feeling of privacy that seemed breached in my examples because I was looking at the circumstances through the eyes of a city woman.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    J McCarthy,

    Can’t argue with you over your hesitation to share information electronically. A friend mentioned just the other day that last year, when she went to pay her taxes, she learned that someone had stolen her identity and submitted tax information–in spite of her subscription to Lifelock–and it took some time to sort things out with Federal and local authorities. They are no doubt used to doing more of this kind of work lately. She was relieved to say that she dealt with smart people who were a huge help in righting the situation. Meanwhile, I wonder why taxes MUST be submitted electronically with all these dangers lurking.

  8. Lucrezia Said:

    City apartment buildings are small communities, complete with a number of colorful characters, including at least one needle nose. Unless content to join the living dead, one makes friends and/or acquaintances, some more intrusive than others. Towns and villages operate on a smaller scale.

    The smaller the development, the more likely ones actions are noticed, and the fact that a neighbor shows interest can be flattering as opposed to being a nuisance. Resulting interpretation is usually a matter of personality, and how one sees oneself in the scheme of things.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    One of the spooky things about the Glenburn meeting in the washing machine place was that we didn’t know how this woman knew that my husband was a lieutenant. He was wearing a coat over his uniform so that nobody saw his rank and carefully tucked his hat in his pocket because we wanted the rent to be as low as possible and we figured it would be higher if Sheriff Avery knew he was an officer.

    A nice part of living for a few months in Glenburn was that we were adopted by a family who invited us to join them at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The “father” was a character, born in North Dakota, who would drive around in 30 below zero temperature in a shirt and pants with a scarf around his neck. Had his ancient pickup truck stopped on a lonely road [which described most], he would have died of hypothermia. He’d show up unannounced at our quarters on the base at dinner time. Trouble was, on a very tight budget, there wasn’t a whole lot to share but somehow, we figured out how to stretch the menu for three.

  10. David Reich Said:

    Nice post.
    I grew up in the NY suburbs, but the apt building where I lived was in some ways like a small town. When someone new moved in, we kids felt we had to know everything about our new neighbors, especially if they had kids our age. So I can see people in small towns feeling they need to know everything because changes can impact them more directly than if they’re in a place with tens of thousands or millions.

    Online lack of privacy drives me crazy. I hate getting emails that obviously are directed by sites I’ve visited or Google searches I’ve done. But I suppose that’s the price we pay for having conveniences like Google.

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I too knew almost everyone in my parent’s small apt. house. I babysat for two of the families when I was old enough and stopped by to trick or treat at all the apts for years. The husband of one neighbor was a semi-retired doctor who visited my Dad in the hospital for just a minute every day for weeks until dad died. And when my mother became ancient and frail, some of the tenants were her guardian angels. But they knew one another for years. The people who approached me were strangers. Maybe it was a chemistry thing.

  12. Martha Takayama Said:

    I am a Bostonian and essentially never lived in a small town, although there are those who would debate this!

    My close high school friend was from a tiny town in the mountains of Italy which she described as some kind of glamorous and stylish paradise around the corner from Rome. The reality was very different from what I expected and our behavior staying with her relatives was the cynosure of all eyes. I tried to conform to the expected standards which seemed mysterious and I later realized were more than slightly hypocritical!

    However, I think all the intrusive meddlesome behavior you describe can be found in urban areas. A year’s living in Athens, Greece made me realize that small town values can survive urban settings. One could never have time to do or say all the things attributed to them in that environment, and those small town values are useful for espionage and political control.

    Today’s internet invasion of one’s shopping habits and privacy is far more distressing. Electronic progress provides new means of espionage and control largely. I am now not startled, but still annoyed or disconcerted by the way any topic that has crossed my mind and my keyboard becomes fodder for endless solicitations and suppositions. I agree with J McCarthy and am fearful of Facebook, although I do like Twitter because of its global instant news bites. I don’t see any way to protect ourselves against the electronic invasion. Therefore, I try to always adhere to my grandfather’s rule: “Never put anything in writing you wouldn’t want the Tsar to read.”

  13. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The lesson your grandfather taught you is similar to one of the first bits of advice I learned in my first PR job: There’s no off the record. In a subsequent PR job the boss reprimanded us because we’d written some disparaging remark about someone in a memo. This was before the Internet. He pointed out that as we represented many associations, and that often association executives are asked to testify in court, we might have zero notice before attorneys would enter our office and remove any and all files pertaining to that association. Did we want to be put on the witness stand and be asked, “Why did you call your client, executive director Maisey Dokes, a moron?”

    Regardless of what “THEY” say, Boston is a beautiful city–one of my favorites.

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