Saturday, September 09, 2006

I always feel like somebody's watching me

The Internet has been a crazy place for privacy this past week.

On Sunday night, Facebook underwent a fairly large change, adding a feature called the News Feed. The Feed allowed students to see every change their friends made. The changes were, quite frankly, somewhat frightening. The world of Big Brother relies on keeping the doors to the control room closed - but Facebook had thrown them wide open.

Overawed with the sheer power of Facebook, students freaked out. Certainly, the smarter ones had to have known that such a tool as the News Feed was possible (and the frat boys and sorostitutes wouldn't have thought about it anyway), but when it came down to it, we were content to allow the benevolent dictator to control the information so long as no one else had access to it. When Facebook made the actually quite logical step of throwing open the doors to the control room, as it were, letting students see the same monitors that Facebook staff had used to track activity, students couldn't handle the creepiness of having that much information.

So fresh from fighting the forces of the digital Big Brother to which I had already gladly surrendered so much, did I come to my senses and stay the hell off the Internet, where my private life has become little more than another plot point in someone's massive database? Nope, I joined an Internet dating site. And I came to another realization about the way the Internet often works. It turns out, everyone comes off as a complete tool when given a tiny box of text to give a self-description. People's interests come out looking conceited or stupid, but rarely interesting.

Defeated by the cruel sting of dating-site homogenization, I began to wonder if others had had better luck elsewhere. But then I discovered this scam.

So what's the lesson here? It's true to the point of nearly being a cliche that the Internet has done a tremendous job at blurring the lines between public and private. People are social creatures, and we want to share information about ourselves - we want other people to know who we are. But we still expect privacy. We want to post on our friends' Facebook profiles, but we don't want the world to know we've done so. We want to reply to sex ads with our personal information, thinking that nothing bad could possibly happen.

I think there is a better way, though, and this is why I'm really a fan of the "blogging revolution" (which is a silly thing to call it, but it is what it is). The blogging medium acts much the same way that personal relationships used to work - rather than finding out the facts of someone's life distilled through idiotic love tests or a Facebook interests section, blogs are a slow reveal, with the picture being built out of the thousand details of a post. But the blogosphere - and here we need to distinguish between not-really blogs like MySpace and real blogs like Althouse's (or this one!) - also tends to be self-selecting, weening out both the idiots who would send naked pics from their work addresses and the staggeringly horrible people who would put out fake sex ads and post the results. So I guess the point of this already too-long post is this: thanks for stopping by the blog. We look forward to getting to know you.


Blogger Matt W said...

Good points.
Glad to see you back on the blogosphere - linked to my page.

2:37 AM  

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