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Saturday, July 16, 2005

America's biggest growth industry

A Roper-Starch survey conducted in 2001 showed 41-percent of Americans had used the Internet to find a friend from their past. More recent surveys indicate 99.7 percent of U.S. citizens have now looked for a lost friend via the Information Super Highway.

I mention this to underscore a significant trend. Second only to the development of video games, the industry surrounding searching for people is the top employer in America. Despite a number of “people search” jobs recently being sent to India and Ireland, approximately 23-million are employed in the industry nationwide.

I employed one of these “search” companies to find my former prom date. I swear I hadn’t remembered that I had taken Carl Rove to the dance. My only memory was a beehive hairdo, the red corsage I had bought her and a satiny, light pink dress. The Rove issue underscores the need to keep this “search industry” firmly based in this country. Those Calcutta based Internet people just don’t understand the nuances of dropping a steak in your lap while wearing a tux (yes, this actually happened). The dating culture of the United States, they will never understand it in India.

After a somewhat embarrassing call to Mr. Rove that helped clear the air about the prom, I hired a new Internet search firm. They found Cheri and fortunately for me and my high school memories she isn’t in prison and has never appeared on “The Jerry Springer Show.” She did admit to dating Geraldo Rivera briefly.

Not all of these reunions work out. Most companies recommend you don’t get in touch with your ex-wife. It’s OK to have a formal Internet search done just to make sure several states still separate you from your ex and your former wealth. If you’ve gone to prison, tracking down a former cellmate also nearly always ends up in disappointment.

There is an inherent clear danger in this reconnecting with your past “business” and governments worldwide are stepping in to prevent more incidents like my unfortunate encounter with Mr. Rove.

The FBI and the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security want to monitor all Internet traffic aboard commercial airplanes as a way to curtail desperate passengers reaching into their past on long air trips. In China the steps are even more draconian. While some argue that Internet restrictions have more to do with the last throes of Communist control, don’t bet on it. Can you image what 1,306,313,812 Chinese looking for lost friends would do to the Internet?