Cruising off the flight from the US to Beijing with my colleague Peter. We enter a phalanx of cameras and weird looking electronic sensors. Buzzers go off. I get waved into a side room, given a face mask, and the nurse comes after me with a big thermometer. Mask is on face. Where else can the thermometer go? I get up to take off my pants which yields a terrible reaction. Colleague takes off at high speed abandoning me to my fate. Armpit is pointed at. Up goes the shirt, thermometer is clamped inside my right pit, and the passing hordes look at me like Typhoid Dave.

After a few minutes the nurse extracts the thermometer, sticks an electronic doo-dad in my ear, scribbles on my health declaration, and sends me on my way. Total time in quarantine – 10 minutes.

The Stranger in My Friends List

Are you really my friend? If I’ve accepted that LinkedIn or Facebook request does that mean we are really pals? The kind of buddy, chum, sidekick who would give you the shirt off hisb back?

This question was posed for real last week when I was in a meeting, glancing at Facebook when the little chat/instant messenger tool popped up with a distress signal from a person in my friends list whom I have never actually met,

Can you help me? I’ve been mugged and have lost my wallet, my phone, my credit cards, my cash. Everything.”

$1,000 was needed to settle a hotel bill in a foreign country. All I needed to do was go to westernunion.com and transfer the cash. I’d be paid back immediately. I started Googling the person. He is an entrepreneur with a Wikipedia entry and appears to be a perfectly decent upstanding citizen, yet is a person I have never met, had a beer with, indeed, ever had any contact with before the IM window popped open. How he became a “friend” is beside the point, he was calling a marker I didn’t know I had outstanding.

I have been asked by friends who I accept invite requests from in networks like Facebook or LinkedIn. “Do you know all those people?” I used to answer promiscuously, now I am not so sure. I don’t think I will let people inside of the Churbuckian velvet rope so easily.

No aspersions cast on the poor individual who asked me for money – but I found myself parrying his request with lines like:

“Did you try your credit card company? Surely American Express has a way to help?”

“The police or US Embassy?”

“Your family?

“Of everyone in your friend’s list, why me?”

I didn’t send the money. I was tempted. But in the end, it made no sense. I projected myself in the same situation and asking someone as tenuous as myself in a virtual network would not be where I found the solution. Family member, close friend. No problem.

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