To date I have not commented on Internet social networks because I have had very mixed opinions about them. Certainly I have dabbled with MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and several other social/dating sites, (in fact I found my wife on a social networking site) but in the long run I have always come back here, to my own personal blog and been done with it. I did not see the appeal of the social networks beyond making hookups or something like that. In fact, I did not see the appeal of blogs (which I now realize is the absolute most basic form of social network) until I felt the need to work out inter struggles for myself and occasionally vent to a neutral audience. In that regard a blog has helped me and in turn I have begun using my blog in a very different way. I now blog opinion as opposed to angst because I do not feel the need to write self examining posts any more, I have dealt with issues and resolved them. But blogs are too simple a beast to be true social networks; the big networks are completely different beasts.
There is no point in trying to define what a social network is, if you ask a hundred different people you will likely get a hundred different answers because a social network is something different to every person. I can tell you what I think it is; for me it is a an electronic exchange via the Internet, a way of maintaining tacit contact with friends I have had over the years (or at least the friends I want to maintain contact with.) I do not report every move I make through Twitter, I do not express every feeling I have on Facebook. Occasionally I share some photos with the public and a few private ones with family. There are times when I will post an opinion or give a brief review of something. I do not play the games. I do not search out groups of people with similar interest. I do not post too much information. In short I use very little of what is offered for free and I would certainly not pay for any of this even if the most basic functions required a fee. In short I can do without social networks, so for me they mean very little.
So why is it so many people now will live an die by their Twitter account? Why are so many people completely hooked on Facebook. I even read a bio on a particular blogger who described Facebook as her secret and shameful addiction. Why are we drawn to it? Could the answer be vanity?
“I am Vanity and my name is Facebook!”
There is a movie coming out at the beginning of October and is called simply enough “The Social Network”. It is about how Facebook and MySpace came to be. The movie looks interesting but what is really interesting is the trailer for the movie. The music for the trailer is “Creep” by Radiohead, except is it covered by a girls choir (I am pretty sure it is not Scala and Kolacny). Anyway, the lyrics in the trailer pick up at the third verse and go like this:
I don’t care if it hurts,
I wanna have control
I want a perfect body
I want a perfect soul
I want you to notice
when I’m not around
You’re so very (fucking) special
I wish I was special
It is this last line that sums up a large part of the social network experience, “I wish I was special”. In a world that moves so fast I feel that it is hard to create lasting bonds of friendship. (Certainly for myself I know I have a very limited number of friends and sometimes that makes me sad.) Strong friendships make you feel special; we all wish we were special. For some people it is really hard to make friends IRL (in real life) and here come the social networks and people can grasp the human need to interact and maybe be special. It is truly heart rending to think of all the people crying out for interaction and the only way they can achieve it is through a social network. Oddly, the song continues as to who the people may be:
But I’m a creep
I’m a weirdo
What the hell am I doin’ here?
I don’t belong here, ohhhh, ohhhh
Is this not everyone (metaphorically) at some point in their lives? Doesn’t everyone deal with feelings of awkwardness and antisocial behavior? The wallflowers, the geeks, the nerds, the hipsters, the inept, the verbally challenged, the overly sensitive, the totally insensitive, the homebound, the terminally ill, the agoraphobic, the fashionable, the seekers, the lost, the shy, and so on all can find an outlet though a social network and may be special to someone or special within a group they identify with. For some the mere fact that they can identify with a group makes them special in their mind. The fact that they can interact at their own pace and in their own way is the beauty of the network. The interaction fulfills our need of some sort of vanity, something that we need for our self esteem.
Voyeurism is Interaction
Then there are “the Lurkers”. Lurkers are people that watch everyone and say very little. You would think that “lurking” is just more anti-social behavior, and in a way it is, to you, but not to the person watching. This silent form of interaction may be creepy but it is interaction if only in one direction. Is this better any better than no interaction at all? Well to me it would seem to be for at least the person doing the lurking is looking for interaction even if it is safe and one way only. Lastly, lurking is not stalking. Stalking requires more interaction than is covered by this topic.
Lurkers feel safe in what they d because the “Shield of Anonymity” the Internet supposedly provides. This perceived shield allow certain people the act with a freedom they may never exercise in real life for fear of what other may think. On the Internet no one knows who you are if you do not want them to and you are protected from physical interaction. Your secret avatar has it’s own life and you need never acknowledge it and no one is the wiser. Even if someone hates your avatar and this concerns you, you can always create a new one and go on your merry way, safe.
Fallacy of Anonymity
When the web was still young and the name “the Internet” was newly coined, one of the true benefits of the Internet was that you were truly just a number, and a mysterious number at that. Back then an IP address was just a number and someone using one could be anyone and there was no way of tracing anything. Like law schools with their “Unsigned Papers” where radical and dissenting opinions are voiced, the Internet was one vast Unsigned Paper. The Internet was a repository for information and free to all, until the marketers got in on it.
Marketing, this was the end of privacy on the Internet. Now information got classified, content that was not worth paying for and content that was worth paying for. Now if you wanted to access any content deemed to have worth you must to divulge who you are. During the late 1990’s this idea of anonymity was incredibly important. Today people now freely post their personal information without a second thought. Why the change? Social Networks.
Today you could, if you tried very hard, still remain anonymous on the Internet. You could use Gift Credit Cards paid with cash to purchase Internet access. You could create non-personal email account on Yahoo. You could then create accounts on MySpace and Facebook and interact completely anonymously. You could even use your anonymous debit credit card to buy digital downloads and such. You could not buy anything real that would have to be sent to you, even if it goes to an anonymous P.O.Box. You could not do any banking, you could not pay any bills, you could not even play most games. Heck, you could not even look up anyone you know (on MySpace or Facebook and such) because the web of associations you make would indicate who you are. It’s all a bit more complicated than that (like be sure to buy a computer with cash because the MAC address and CPU IDs are recorded and associated with the purchaser (remember the dust up a couple of months ago when Apple insisted you pay for your iPad with a real credit card so they could record who you are?)) but you get the idea.
So, 1998 and privacy is a huge concern and now it is 2010 and the only privacy we seem to have is our medical records which are still open books to most insurance companies and if your medical records are purchasable, you have no privacy. To wit the opinion of most people is that since we have no privacy why not post all your information and not really worry about it. After all, how cool can you be on Facebook without a complete profile.
So we are clear, once you get onto a Social Network, unless you have taken great pains to hide your identity, ANYONE can find you, and usually do it in minutes. Without knowing anything special about someone consider this: If you have someone’s name, zip code and age, how many people do you honestly think are going to share these stats? Sure, you may get a few hits on someone named John Smith in Los Angeles, but how many Tyler Conways in 90012, Male, and 24 years old are there? You can see my point; it is easy to track someone down with minimal information all available at the touch of a few buttons and the search of a few public records.
Simply put, the social networks pretty much abolish your hope for anonymity. But I digress…
Your Social Network
There was a time before computers and the Internet where your social network was your real life friends, the people that you would hang out with, the people you met for dinner, played poker with, helped out in time of need, talked to on the phone, interacted in a real physical “in real life” way. In many ways we seem to have lost that. Certainly the current generation of young people interacts less face to face than previous generations. This is not a misconception/misperception because I am getting older, this is truly the case. The internet is teaching our children to be less social on a personal level and has replaced it with social interaction on the net. To quote the movie “The Net”: “No one leaves the house anymore. No one has sex. The Net is (the) ultimate condom.”
Personally I would like to extend my IRL social network. It’s not that I don’t like the social network I have online, it is just you really can’t enjoy a beer with someone while typing with one hand and guzzling a beer with the other. That and whole lot of other activities are not possible or immensely less satisfying over the net. We really need to reach out to others, even those in our online social network and make an effort to take the social network into real life. Living in cyberspace is not healthy.