Monday, June 02, 2008

On social networks



AS we go through our lives, at every step of the way we make decisions about what information we share about ourselves. The very nature of our society dictates that we become good at maintaining the web of lies that we weave. So much so, that it becomes second nature. Online communities such as tribes.net, Orkut, Friendster, MySpace, hi5, Facebook allow us to share pieces of our lives with our friends. We can use them to publish photos, stories, plan events, and probably hundreds of other features that I don't even know about.

Sharing, and seeing, is a lot of fun, but there are consequences that need to be dealt with. Social networks lack the information filters that are second nature to us. Once someone has been given authorization to view the pieces of your life that you choose to publish, they get to see it all. Worse yet, as common friends, they now have unrestricted access to each other's information.

Friendster knows that Mark and Justine are your "friends". Friendster does not know that they are living together, and that it wouldn't go over too well if Justine ever saw the photos you took of Mark with the stripper at Tony's bachelor party in Vegas last year. MySpace knows that Angela's BFF Jill, and her new boyfriend Chris are both on their friends list. MySpace does not know that Chris's sister Suzette died of a drug overdose last summer, and that he probably wouldn't approve of the picture Jill posted of Angela holding the The World's Biggest Joint at MarleyFest '04. And who the hell is that skank Ivana, and why is she on your friends list anyway?

So what is the solution? We can carefully pick and choose what we share, and leave out the bits of our lives that we feel would be most likely to offend, or hurt the ones we care about. With a little effort, we can sanitize everything, making sure that everything we share is properly sanitized, and acceptable to everyone.

And how boring we shall all be.

This then raises the next question - is participation in an online network worth it? Do the benefits of being on Orkut outweigh the self-introspection, self-censorship and the reduction of our personalities to the lowest common denominator of acceptability that participation requires?

For me, the answer is no.

I have friends who are on these networks, and for their sake, I will join. I will answer messages sent to me, and I'll add anyone that wants to be added to my list of "friends". But for the sake of not offending any of their friends and family, past present and future, I will never post anything about myself on here. If you want to get to know me, or to say hi, send me an email. Or better yet, pick up the phone, and ask me to meet you for a beer. In a strip club. In Vegas. Be sure to bring Ivana. And the World's Biggest Joint.

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