Facing up to Facebook

1984 - George OrwellIt occurred to me today that the exciting stuff with the Internet is now behavioural rather than technical. The e-shopping apps are in, the e-banking apps are in, we use google to satisfy our informational whims, all sorts of transactions are now almost friction-free. Developing apps is not where it’s at.

What’s interesting now is how the Internet is changing how we interact, and the most interesting space of all at the moment is Facebook. The premise of Facebook is that it is your name, with your address, the details of your school, college or work, and your real, live, real-life friends.

This is new in various ways:

  • Firstly, we’ve got used to using screen-names, and incidents such as the Oxford students and the Police show that many Facebook users have not yet thought through their lack of pseudonymity.
  • Secondly, apps like Facebook in particular mean that we will never loose sight of friends or enemies ever again. They can run, but they can’t hide. And vice versa.

I’m still thinking through the implications of this one. At the moment one can easily and happily drop out of one place and into another by changing jobs, changing hobbies, moving house, leaving a relationship. One can grow up and move on, leaving embarrassments, mistakes, consequences, and really really boring people, behind. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, it’s just a thing. But Facebook, even more than Google, takes that away from us.

And do you know what? It’s so useful and such fun that none of us mind.

For now.


11 responses to “Facing up to Facebook

  1. Facebook, Bebo and the like only have potential for Much Badness if you’re sharing all this personal stuff widely. I only have 6 friends on Facebook, who I’ve known for 12 to 26 years and meet with every few weeks (so they are good friends).

    Whilst applications enable us to network with people we choose to but mainain anonymity and invisibility to t’interweb generally, I reckon all is good.

    To my way of thinking, putting up personal stuff (especially pics) for anyone and everyone to see is at worst narcissistic and at best naieve . . .

  2. Privacy is a thing of the past. The younger generation don’t value it – in fact they glory in frenetic self-exposure – and the powers-that-be are busily shredding its remnants because it hinders their aspirations to control every aspect of our lives and even our thoughts.

    What would Orwell have been writing today, I wonder?

  3. Is there a grownup alternative to Facebook? Everyone there seems to be an infant.

    I’ve been very careful about my anonymity online, so the idea of putting my real info out there makes my spidey sense tingle. But I’m about to move for the first time in 30 years and I would like casual friends from the past to be able to find me.

  4. I suspect Orwell would be writing “I told you so!” I find it disturbing that our prez and congress feel it is important to pass legislation that is unconstitutional so they can spy on us without a warrant all in the name of national security. Facebook is just a symptom.

  5. I’m a bit wary now about being too upfront about my identity on the internet. I had an unfortunate experience with Friends Reunited after replying politely to a message from someone I barely remembered. He seemed to think it was the start of some big romance – and me very happily ensconced with the dearly beloved for 20+ years! It was the devil of a job to get rid of him.

  6. The great strength of Facebook is its greatest weakness, Shrink. You are in a profession which does keep track of its members so you can relatively easily find people you were at Uni with, the colleagues in your first job, etc, but I’ve moved around a lot meeting and losing touch with people along the way. I like the fact that people from five or ten years ago can find me on Facebook, but… I will be more revalatory in spaces like this one because I am pseudonymous. You are absolutely right that how much we expose ourselves is our responsibility.

    Anticant, I have been thinking about your comment ever since I first read it. It’s made me ask what privacy is for. I think it might be to avoid confrontation and possibly to avoid unpleasant consequences, and of course there are people who simply enjoy having secrets. But I am now thinking a lot about privacy, and the different generations’ relationship with privacy, consequences and technology. Thank you for a very thought-provoking comment.

    I found everyone on MySpace to be infants, and noisy ones at that, Weasel. Facebook I’ve found to be reasonably adult, but then most of the people I keep up with can string a coherent thought to another coherent thought in an intelligent and challenging way. As I’ve already said, I find Facebook to be useful, but it is very much the public face of Aphra.

    HMH – don’t even start me on the opportunistic legislation of our respective governments.

    Kit, you have put your finger on one of the main problems I was trying to bring out – the fact that if we use these utilities then we can never really hide from individuals again.

    Thanks all for reading and commenting.


  7. The anonymity thing is interesting. A fellow blogger had a picture of herself and asked for comments. I said had she thought through the fall out if she wanted to post something that might offend somebody/somewhere – and you do, you always do. She changed the picture to a nice landscape scene. But it’s hard to imagine the consquences at the time, especially when we live in a society where public confession has become the norm.

  8. Privacy is about personal integrity, and the right to tell anyone else – the State most of all – “Mind your own business”. There are some aspects of my life, and past events, which are entirely private to me, and not to be willingly shared with anybody. Nobody should have the right to pry or force such information out of me. If they do, that is the world of Orwell’s Big Brother.

    It has been said that we have four selves: there is the self that I know and you know; there is the self that I know and you don’t; there is the self that you know and I don’t, because when you try to tell me about it I get angry; and there is the self that neither of us knows.

  9. Interesting post. I asked the same questions about privacy when I started my blog a couple months ago.

    I think we’re going to have to redefine the word ‘privacy’ in the very near future. The fact that future employers could do a thirty second Google search for my name and come up with something to be offended by doesn’t mean that they should be allowed to. We’ve drawn those lines in the sand before, and I think we’re going to have to again.

    For example, if I were applying for a job, the person doing the hiring could come to my neighborhood, knock on all my neighbors’ doors, and ask questions about my personal life. They could peek in my windows at night to see what I’m watching on television or to see if I walk around in my underwear. They could sort through my mail looking for incriminating correspondence or a political perspective that doesn’t match their own. They could follow me to dinner with friends and listen in on our conversation to see if I have anything negative to say about anybody, or to see how I tip the waitress, or to see if I use a lot of swears.

    In each case, they could do these things, but as a society (I’m speaking from an American perspective; I’m assuming it’s the case elsewhere, though I’m certainly wrong.) we’ve decided that it’s unreasonable, unethical, and illegal to do so.

    Maybe it’s time to expand the definition again.

  10. How on earth would you keep a prospective employer from Googling your name? The most you could do was enact legislation that would make him claim he rejected you for some other reason.

    Best plan: never post anything under your own name that you’d be ashamed for your mom to read.

  11. How on earth would you keep a prospective employer from Googling your name? The most you could do was enact legislation that would make him claim he rejected you for some other reason.

    Best plan: never post anything under your own name that you’d be ashamed for your mom to read.

    You mean physically? You couldn’t. Recognizing the change in ethics and enacting/enforcing laws to ‘prevent’ it, though, you could do.

    I worried about this and used a screen name for a long time, but after I was online for a few years, it started to feel like I was hiding something, like I was embarrassed or ashamed of what I was saying or doing. I also felt like I was shortchanging the people I was interacting with online, some of whom I know better than offline friends.

    I finally came to the point where I just decided that if an employer (and there are other applications for this) doesn’t want me because he found a three-year-old post on a forum while digging for dirt, he’s probably right that I shouldn’t be working for him.

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