February 28, 2009

Do We Really Want to Be Found?

Justin Katz

Others among the Anchor Rising contributors have more Facebook experience than I do, but I find aspects of the phenomenon unsettling. Mark Patinkin touches on one in his column today:

I think the problem was that I hadn't entered any personal details on the site, thinking that would be weird for a man my age, but I went back in and did add a few basics, like the schools I went to.

Immediately, Facebook told me 24 people from my 1970 high school class had signed up, and so had 74 from my college class. They were all told I was now registered, and a number began to be in touch.

This explained why Facebook is successful. Even if I'd come across these folks' e-mails, I doubt I'd have written them out of the blue to say hello, but for reasons I don't fully grasp, on Facebook, it's natural to do so.

I wouldn't suggest that folks oughtn't have the right to do such networking, but I wonder what thus-far intangible detriments there might be to decreasing Americans' ability to reinvent themselves in new locations. Especially in Rhode Island, some folks never leave the regions of their birth, but the capacity for distance is healthy.

Maybe I'm a fuddy-duddy in Internet years, but it seems to me that being Googlable is the adequate balance. There's that moment of decision to seek somebody out (and believe me that I've been on both sides of the wrong choice). Sending a reminder to all of my high school classmates that I'm still alive? I don't know; bumping into too many of them was one of the reasons that I slipped away from New Jersey.

Of course, before I sat down to pen this post, curiosity got the better of me, and I registered. The moment I'd completed the process, people whose names I recognize from around Rhode Island popped up requesting to be my "friends." Does that mean that I was on some sort of a watch list?

More disconcerting, given my recent activities, was the ability to look at others' friends. I searched for graduates of my high school, and thus begins the thread. Rob leads to Andrew leads to Jay leads to Stephanie, who works for a major record company (which would have been very good to know back before life had pushed me off the rock star fantasy). And I could send messages to all of them; what a weapon these friends lists might provide to political enemies. What rumors might they spread back through one's biography by sending messages to friends of friends of friends. What dirt they might tease out from the past were they to dig.

My reaction upon seeing the names and pictures of people I once knew returns to my initial thought. To me, these thirty-somethings, most of them fifteen years removed from immediate experience, evoke impressions of their younger selves, and my effect on them would likely be the same. What will it mean for our society when one can never escape — when we must prove continually that we have changed?

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Those who might share your reservations, Justin, would prefer not to publicly agree with you out of concern that they might appear anti-social or even churlish.

(ahem) Personally, I don't know of anyone who feels that way. I'm just trying to give voice to this hypothesized segment of A.R. readers ...

Posted by: Monique at March 1, 2009 7:34 AM

I'm FB savvy. Before I joined (at the urging of my far-flung family), I had reservations (many of the same that Justin recites). There are still annoyances--and I can certainly understand the creepiness factor of the "instant network" facet--but FB does allow you to control "who" can see "what" about you (for instance, you can put a "friend" in one or several groups and then limit access by groups--or individuals--to various FB "features"). On the positive side--at least with regards to my family and a few friends separated by many miles--it allows us to keep closer in touch. That's the core reason I'm on it, the rest is just a lot of fluff. But it's not for everyone.

Posted by: Marc at March 1, 2009 8:36 AM

You raise some good points. Initially, I didn't like Facebook much, but I started using it frequently about 2 months ago. I was feeling nostalgic and started looking for old friends. I was able to get in touch with people I hadn't seen in 10 or 20 years. It was nice to catch up with everyone.

Posted by: Damien Baldino at March 1, 2009 3:28 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.