Sunday, September 14, 2008

Once it's out there, it's out there

If I knew how to make a video, this would be a video post. Since I don't, use your imagination:

Pan to a kitchen where a guy is sitting at a table in his boxers, eating cereal and working on his laptop. Suddenly the door opens and a bunch of people walk in. Guy looks startled, eying his boxers and half-empty bowl of cereal. "Hey--remember us--we went to high school together!" Then the door opens again and another group of people walks in. "Dude! Remember those crunk parties back at State?" Again, guy eyes his boxers and looks a little desperate.

The kitchen's starting to get crowded. The door opens again--it's his boss. And coworkers. Guy hurries to block his screen--he'd been blogging about how boring his job is. The room is very crowded now, everyone huddled around his computer screen, craning their necks to get a look at what he's writing. The guy is trapped at the table, can't even pull his chair back to stand up.

Door opens again--it's mom! And niece! And next-door neighbor! Now the room is packed. All eyes turn to the guy and the questions start coming: "Loved the pictures of your party--but why wasn't I invited? "Dude, that was a hilarious post about your boss--but what if he sees it?" Boss glares at the guy. Mom: "I saw your comment on that post about dysfunctional families--how could you say those things about me?"

The room is buzzing with chatter and guy at table is engulfed by the crowd. Screen fades to black.

My long-winded point: social media, formerly embraced by a pretty select few early adopters, is now becoming much more widely-used. This is ostensibly good, because it's becoming easier and easier to connect to long-lost friends, former classmates, childhood acquaintances, coworkers from former jobs--pretty much anyone and everyone. The world suddenly feels like a much smaller place.

It's great to catch up with people, keep in touch when real life is often too busy to keep up with even close friends. But the downside is that all those casual acquaintances--oftentimes people you haven't seen in years or who you were never that close to to begin with--are suddenly privvy to the intimate details of your life. Any part of you that you choose to put out in cyber space--photos, your blog, your tweets, your comments on other blogs, your professional affiliations--it's pretty much part of the public record. Without even realizing it you're suddenly "on" at all times.

Bottom line: if I wanted to be part of a perpetual cocktail party with everyone I've ever known, I probably wouldn't be spending half my life online. Granted, I'm the one who put it all out there to begin with--I just didn't realize anyone was actually looking.

Someone needs to invent a cleanup crew application--it goes back in time and erases all your connections and makes all your blog posts and comments anonymous. But then again, would I really do it if I could?

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