I sometimes jocularly refer to Facebook as “Fecesbook” — not because I have anything against the service, but because the opportunities for potty humor in America are so rare that a sophisticated blogger should not let one slide by. So, “Fecesbook.” Get it? Hehe. Also, there’s this question of privacy, and how much of it we willingly trade in our clumsy attempts to be relevant online.
Every day there’s a new warning about privacy. This latest one, via the New York Times, basically says that if you have any sort of online presence at all, you might as well be running around naked and waving a giant replica of your driver’s license. You think it’s all about Farmville and party photos and linking to op-ed pieces you absolutely agree with, but really it’s all about chubby guys in monitor-lit rooms painstakingly compiling the nine digits of your Social Security number.
This is sobering to a person like myself, who has dipped at least a toe into every social network in the world. You name it, I’ve got a user name and a password for it. And probably a profile representing myself as the wittiest and most easy-going of men — in short, a profile bearing little resemblance to the real me. ( Take that, identity thieves!) I’m not sure why I do it. Maybe I’m just like everybody else who spends too much time on the Internet: I keep thinking, even this late in the day, that “social networking” might yet yield something unattainable in real life.
Something besides Farmville, I mean. It’s not exactly a paradox of life in 2010 that while “new media” and social networks keep proliferating exponentially, so do the costs of indulging in them: wasted time, unintended slights, bitter knowledge of parties you weren’t invited to, and of course stolen identities. We’re told to protect our privacy online without considering that the surrender of privacy is the sole reason these networks exist. Yes, you can be safer on Facebook by deleting your hometown from your profile. But if that’s the logic, why not be really safe, and delete your photo too? Why not delete your name? Why not delete your account?
That’s easy: Because we want to be known. We want people to wish us happy birthday even when they don’t remember the day. We want to be recognized as distinct individuals, not as silly avatars who prize anonymity above all else. And most of all, we want to do it without having to venture outside too often.
Besides, rampant anonymity isn’t so great either. It’s already rendered much of the Web uninhabitable. Look at Second Life, or peruse the comment section following any online news story in the Wichita Eagle. That’s where anonymity leads: venomous swine comparing each other to Hitler. Facebook remains civilized only because people use their real names, and have a “friends” list that includes people they actually know.
Still, if the experts say we should seriously edit some of the crap we’re putting online, there’s probably something to it. Effective today I’ve removed my credit card numbers, psychiatric history, SSN and the You Tube video of me robbing that Walgreen’s a couple of years ago. Is that going too far? Maybe. No doubt there’s some middle ground between total anonymity and living life on a closed-circuit camera, tethered to a polygraph while some guy goes through my wallet in the other room. But for now, why take chances?