Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Why I Won't Be Quitting Facebook

At least now. I always reserve the right to change my mind. It seems that many are re-thinking their Facebook accounts, so much so that there is this. Oh and this. I also see the complaints from friends on Twitter, (and on Facebook, oh the irony) the rants about privacy and every time I find myself shaking my head. Why? Well, it's Web 2.0, for one. We all use it, daily, and depend on it more than we realize. All the social network sites, I've named two already, along with YouTube, Flickr, Tumbler, Stumble Upon, Pandora, to name a very few, and any of the smart phone applications are built upon Web 2.0's back. Heck, even this very blogging platform is made possible by Web 2.0. Not only do we use all of these applications, we willingly use all of these applications. That's important because that is what is so often left out of the complaints about Facebook. We signed up. We put our lists, our information, or photos out there. And there our personal info floats, in the big Web 2.0 cloud in the sky.

The big concern everyone seems to have is privacy. Maybe some thought logging onto a social networking site felt a private sort of activity to engage in? Interesting. I had no such illusions. In fact, I've been on the ol'world wide web since '97, seeking out connection with the like-minded folk, in groups, listserves, ezboards, sharing photos, tagging personal info, updating avatars, posting links, uploading files, all of it. And it's been a big part of my life and has done more to educate and shape who I am today than any college course I took. (Speaking of which, Web 2.0 is doing the same for our children and having them plugged-in is an absolutely essential tool for learning and personal, even academic growth).

To quote from Academic Evolution:
That's right. Who you are and what you've done will in the very near future be so well documented by your online activities that a resume will be redundant. The time will come when a college degree will be suspect if not complemented by an admirable online record--and I'm not talking about transcripts. Your "transcripts" will consist of your lifestream: your blog, your social networks, your creative work published or otherwise represented online. Cyberspace is already more real to you than the physical space of your college campus--it is becoming so for your future employers.~~Gideon Burton

So let's discuss privacy. Do I care if Pandora shares with other listeners that I've been listening to Etta James or Bloc Party? No, actually, I don't. Or, Facebook knows that when the mood strikes to watch a movie, they know what I'm likely to pick? No. No more than Netflix or Amazon or my local video place knows, or Target, where I recently purchased a RFID-chipped dvd (or that Bloc Party cd). The RFID chip serves the same purpose, supply chain management, that Facebook's making our interests linked up to widely social and public applications, often tied to business, is serving--to make them money. Facebook is a business and that is how they make money, by allowing businesses to gear advertising to us, per our stated interests. Just like it's done on Yahoo Groups or Amazon or just about anyone who is trying to find their target audience. It's called marketing. When we signed up for Web 2.0, we signed up to be marketed to. But that's nothing new. How many of us have credit card bonus points that allow us to make purchases at specified retailers (frequent-flyer miles, anyone?) or have signed-up for grocery store preferred buyer cards, or store credit cards or have claimed coupons on-line, or given our area codes or phone numbers to retailers? There are so many ways in which we impart personal information, too numerous to list here, and the practice and technology has been out there, long before Web 2.0 woke up in 2003. More than that, we seek out newly created applications that track the same info--Blippy, anyone?

So while I agree that it feels a bit Orwellian to know we all have some sort of web signature out there in the Matrix, I'm not convinced that Zuckerberg's much maligned transparency is such a bad thing. (Perhaps all that talk about bad things on our permanent records scarred us for life?) I tend to think we're safer with transparency, than without, for instance. If someone approaches me or my children and lets us know they have all this personal information about us, I'm more suspect today than I might have been without transparency. With transparency, say a stranger is feeding my info back to me, I know for a fact that they could have gotten that info just about anywhere in the cloud. I won't trust them until I have good reason to trust them. If on the other hand, I have all my info locked down (assuming that's even possible today), I am more inclined to trust that stranger spewing my info back to me, because, gee, how would they know such and such? My kids know this, too--this is the world they are growing up in.

People also seem worried about identity theft, like this didn't happen before Facebook or Web 2.0. Am I going to post my social security number on Twitter? No, that would be stupid. I do think a more transparent life, one that is more public and social, keeps our identities safer, however. To illustrate, who will I notice is gone (because isn't that what we fear, that Big Brother will vaporize us for our bad taste in movies) first? Our recluse neighbor who rarely leaves his home and when we do spot him on rare occasions, it's always, oddly, at dusk--OR--the neighbors across the street whose front door I know by sound, who walk their dog habitually, who always have a friendly wave or hello? I'm going to notice things are not quite right with the social ones, absolutely, and here's the thing, because they make an impact on me. They leave a mark, a signature, just by leaving their house. We say hello, we connect, we discuss gardens, their dog, I hear their front door open and shut, I know about their love of all things Red Sox (the Red Sox flag on their stoop and games watched from the comfort of their outdoor hot tub are good indicators or what their interests are). They leave a signature just like any of us leave when we participate in Web 2.0. I'll notice if you don't show up one day. If you don't participate, you can't be missed.

Another argument against transparency is what about my boss/employer/mother-in-law and those incriminating photos/groups/interests? My answer to that is this: be you. Be the best you. Always. Anywhere. All the time. If you wouldn't act a certain way standing in the middle of your grocery store, it's probably a good idea to not do it on the Web, too. Does that mean you constantly live in fear and edit yourself? No, well, editing, yes, maybe that. But what's wrong with editing? Isn't editing an element of critical thought? Shouldn't we all show a little restraint before putting our fingers to the keyboard? I don't mean censor, not at all, I mean fine-tune your thoughts, shape them, rewrite, reconsider, be mindful of what you put out there. Out there is a social place. It's not private. It will be heard and seen by others, so be honest, practice integrity. Yes, we'll all swear, grumble, complain, vent, voice opinions, rally, support, laugh, make mistakes and errors in judgement, grieve, trust, educate, share, and inspire while using any Web 2.0 application. And it all comes back to us, which is fine, if we've been honest (transparent) about who we are.

Finally, we're reaching that saturation point where the boss won't care about your braces/photochromic lenses/mullet photo because they have one too. What will stand out is your voice, your words, your mindfulness and your integrity, over time.

Web 2.0 and all it's applications are what you make it. That's not meant to be trite. It's simply true. None of these platforms could exist without our willingness to embrace them. To use them with mindfulness, with transparency and with integrity is the challenge. I'll see you on Facebook.

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