Saturday, June 14, 2008

Social Networking

The Boston Globe published an op/ed piece this morning focused on the "end of privacy" with the advent of social networking and our society's insatiable desire for information. In the piece the author writes that social networking sites like Facebook, and the availability of donor lists on line, for example, are among the factors that contributes to a lack of privacy in our society.

I have several reactions to this piece.

1. If one is so concerned about privacy, then one has choices. You can choose to not have a Facebook profile, you can choose not to affiliate with people or causes that may be potentially embarrassing to you, you can make a donation through a donor-advised fund or a bank to shield your privacy. If someone chooses to engage with social networks - virtual or otherwise - by definition one is choosing to forgo privacy. If I join a bowling team, I can't expect that my participation on the bowling team will remain private, if only by virtue of the fact that there are other people on the bowling team who know me.

2. I also wonder about the people who choose affiliations that may be damaging to them in some way. I am careful about my social networking; I don't accept friendship invitations from anyone who I am not actually friends with. Why? Well, I don't want the responsibility, nor do I want to give time, to friendships or connections that don't have honest meaning for me. It is my impression that many people make frivolous choices because they think it will inspire a reaction among others - it will be funny, or shocking, or make them look "cool" or enigmatic. I don't think this has integrity, and I don't respect it. Particularly in an information age where our Internet choices follow us forever.

This changes the social dynamic for young people - who by definition are seeking their niche in society and experiment with different personas. I don't envy teens and young adults nowadays. If I wanted to be a goth when I was 17, I could do it without potential long term repercussions; no future boss was going to google me and find my online profile expressing my lifelong devotion to Marilyn Manson, killing chickens, and black fingernails. This may happen for a teen who is going through a goth "phase" en route to her or his adulthood.

Regardless, all of our social networking calls for a sense of awareness of the potential implications of our actions - which is a social skill that anyone can develop.

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