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Originally published Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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While you still can do so, keep in e-touch with your old friends

The Internet allows us to keep tabs on celebrities, but also with old acquaintances. You can get a bead on someone you knew years ago, without...

Special to The Seattle Times

The Internet allows us to keep tabs on celebrities, but also with old acquaintances. You can get a bead on someone you knew years ago, without bothering them. When it comes time to make contact you can do so.

Or so I once thought.

Outside the public-figure milieu, private citizens leave a specific "Web footprint." This varies. A journalist will have a higher profile than a banker or a spy. Still, quasi-successful people will be available online, especially if they seek to take that success to the next level.

Not only do you make new business contacts through a Web page, an increased Web footprint can give your reputation an exponential boost. And as long as you participate fully — provide a public e-mail address — someone from any part of your life is free to re-establish contact.

Switching viewpoints, that means you can search for old friends or classmates and get an idea of their latest accomplishments. We check other people out, both to see what they are up to and compare their successes with our own.

This behavior isn't all that far removed from stalking, with the creepier parts removed. It's relatively harmless, as the "victim" has no clue who is watching and as long as such behavior as following you home or photographing your children isn't part of the program.

Weird behavior aside, we now have the ability to interact with old friends by dropping them an electronic note. It's an easy, painless process that carries none of the social discomfort of running into the same people on the street when they are on the way to something important.

I began my career as an acquaintance stalker several years ago, at which time I sent out a few notes to old friends. Some exceptions aside, the interaction was pleasant enough but ultimately unrewarding.

There was always the feeling that if I really wanted to stay in touch, I would have done so. And as I kept tabs on several people from my past, I knew I could call them at any time.

Eventually that turns out to be untrue. About a year ago I spotted an old acquaintance online, listed as a speaker at a local conference that had just ended. I made a note to try to catch him the next time and resolved to write him a note before he came to town again. I searched his name again last week and found that he had died of a heart attack in December.

Admittedly, an overdramatic example. There doesn't need to be a macabre end; a missing person may have moved from the marketing department to the stockroom.

In the meantime, the same rules apply as in real life: If it is important to talk to old pals again, and if you know where they are, do it today. Tomorrow, you may not have a choice.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at cbermant@seattletimes.com. Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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