My students jokingly call me a stalker when I tell them about how, back in 6th grade, I tracked down Karen, a girl I had a crush on, but had moved at the end of 3rd grade, using only the Suburban Essex White Pages and a map of the county.
And they're right. Even though we didn't have the word then, I guess I was a stalker. And I'm betting that a lot of girls I had crushes on, and later moved away from East Orange, were glad that the Internet didn't exist back when I was in elementary school, because I would've been dangerous.
But over the years, because of my library training, I've been able to use new online tools like Classmates, Reunion, USA People Search, the Syracuse University alumni directory, the online White Pages, and of course, Facebook, to satisfy my occasional curiosity about "what ever happened to..."
However you have to be really careful, because sometimes you end up with more information than you really wanted.
It started with the 1977 Dance Marathon. My partner and I hadn't been on speaking terms for weeks leading up to the event, but I was determined to be civil for the 48 hours we had signed up for months earlier. But when her boyfriend from home showed up on Friday night, and took my place, that put the final nail in the coffin, and I was now a dancer without a partner.
After a little time just drifting about on my own, this girl with a great smile came up to me, told me that her partner couldn't make it because he was sick, and asked if she could dance with me. I may have been lacking a few social skills at the time, but I had enough to know to say "yes" to her.
Her name was "Diane," and we spent pretty much the remaining 48 hours together. She was really nice, and I wanted to ask her out sometime after the Dance Marathon was over, but I didn't quite have the social skills to do it and so nothing ever happened. I'd run into her on campus from time to time over the next year or so, and then at some point she graduated and disappeared.
Well, one day a few years ago, I decided to use my "stalking" skills to find out whatever happened to her. Where was she now, what was she doing? You know, just plain old human curiosity, nothing that would warrant a restraining order. I've learned a thing or two since Karen.
Somehow, through one of the sources I had found, I discovered that someone with her name, from SU, and roughly the same age, had been killed in the 9/11 attacks.
I stopped right there. She had a common enough first and last name - in fact, the alumni directory showed two or three people with that name at SU around 1977 - so there was a chance that it might not be her. But still, this was more information than I needed. Dammit! This was more information than I wanted. This was stuff I was much better off not having known in the first place. I didn't check any further. I didn't look for any more information to either confirm or disprove that it was her - and I won't either.
Because as long as I don't know for sure, that really nice girl, with the great smile, that I got to dance with for almost 48 hours back in 1977 is still alive.