Being Commonly Recognized in Public – It’s a Blessing and a Curse.

Today when I visited the corner convenience store in my neighborhood a man approached me, asking who I was and inquiring as to whether he knew me. I can tell you with certainty that I have never seen this man in my life. To most people this would be no big deal perhaps, but for those of us who value our personal privacy and anonymity, it’s a little unnerving. In fact, this week I was asked no less than 3 times by 3 different people if we had met previously. They all were sure they’d met me before, they went to school with me or I worked somewhere they knew me from. I’ve never been known for having a great memory, but I’m very good at recognizing and remembering faces. To me, this was annoying, but also a compliment, because blending in is what I have worked hard to do.
guy with beard homeless
The lessons that I draw from this experience and what I think is worth passing on about privacy are twofold. The first lesson is that when it comes to privacy, it’s good to blend in. If you really care about privacy then you won’t be dressed in the most flashy clothing and jewelry you can find, driving a yellow SUV and blasting your car stereo as you ride through town. Potential thieves may see you and assume you have money and paint you as a potential target for home invasion.

Solution: Look around you at what is the median, that is, what is most common in your area. For example, if you’re looking for a new car (or used), but want to blend in, find out what car is common where you live. Is everyone driving a Honda Civic or a Chevy Tahoe? Yes, privacy is sometimes boring, but thinking in this manner could save your life!

The second lesson, and this one may be harder to adopt, is to be prepared to play your role. Many of us grew up in friendly neighborhoods, rural communities and towns here in the United States and assumed that our futures would be much like it was then. People were trustworthy and friendly in general, people knew your name and you knew theirs. There was a social contract that right was right, and wrong was wrong. Yes there were exceptions and crime is as old as humanity, but it was limited. At the risk of sounding extremely pessimistic, I am here to tell you that “we aren’t in Kansas anymore!” The social contract was broken long ago and those values our grandparents fought so hard for are quickly being eroded by so much modern poison – but that’s a subject for another blog.

Bottom line, you may have to be prepared to tell a little white lie or two. When a stranger asks your name, you don’t have to tell them your real name! This is something I really struggled with at first. I was always taught to be honest and respect others, and you can still do this – except when privacy is at stake or you’re dealing with strangers who may well mean you harm. So start thinking about a common name or two you like. Get out your local phone book (or look online) and flip through it. What surnames (last names) are common? Those are good candidates. And if you are doing something like getting your oil changed or getting a haircut, please don’t provide the business with your real address (they just use the information for tracking and targeted advertisement anyway). I think you get the idea from here. What we’re promoting here is ultimately your privacy, so don’t go trying to commit crimes – didn’t you know that crime doesn’t pay?!


  1. Dear Author: You may have encountered what I have dubbed :an agent of chaos”. I am currently writing a book about them but I may not live to see it published. These people do not work for the government but have tentacles reaching government technology. He may be watching the area and as a last resort had to pose as John Q Citizen to act like he may know you so he could get a name. This happens to many of us in the privacy world and you did the right thing by giving a commonly used name.
    Stay safe my friend.

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