Working as I do in online media — both as a career and as a free-time hobby — I naturally have to keep up with what’s hot, what’s trending, where everything is going, how people are using online tools to get and share information, etc., etc.
Obviously, over the last several years, social networking has exploded. Facebook and Twitter are pretty much platforms that every company or blogger has to be on, otherwise they’re missing out on a swath of people who might be on Facebook or Twitter all day, but do not necessarily seek out and view content on websites without being reminded by updates they get on Facebook or Twitter.
(Interestingly, the idea of going to websites to seek out the content you want — without getting some sort of reminder — seems almost foreign to me now. I pretty much do all my online reading via RSS feeds, where Google Reader gives me a list of headline links from all my favorite sites that I either choose to click on to read the story, or not.)
But with social networking has come this idea that so much more must be shared, and so much more content (status updates, links to other content, clever asides, etc.) must constantly be generated. But for me personally, I’ve found it doesn’t really work that way.
For starters, I’ve found that I have built pretty distinct walls between my online “public” self, my job, my circle of real-life friends, and my private life. These main spheres of my life (which themselves have subsets) overlap, but not always or necessarily. Enter into this equation Facebook and Twitter, which are supposed to tear down those walls, and what I’ve found for myself is that I simply use these platforms for certain things and certain things only, and the walls largely remain.
For example, if I don’t know you in real life, you are almost certainly not my friend on Facebook. Don’t take it personally. It’s simply that I have Jammer’s Reviews & Blog, where I talk about some things, and Facebook, where I share other things, mostly with friends I have known for years. I don’t want them to overlap by default; if I want something specific to overlap, then maybe I’ll post it in both places. Or not. They’re just two different and distinct areas of my life.
For that matter, even my Facebook page only goes so far into sharing things about my life. I comment on things going on with me personally, but only insofar that my Facebook audience (my group of real-life friends) might be interested or amused by whatever I say out there. Sometimes I do status updates of the mundane, but really not that often. Usually I post something once every few days. Generally a stupid observation or pop-culture reference.
I’m always amazed by people who share so much personal information on Facebook. Given the privacy issues of a company that I frankly don’t trust, I don’t share anything out there that I wouldn’t be comfortable if it got leaked publicly in its entirety. Which of course means that I’m completely censored even on Facebook with my real-life friends. (Granted, part of that is because my Facebook friends include people I wouldn’t be comfortable sharing everything with anyway.) I am not controversial, I do not post a lot of pictures about what I’ve done, and I certainly don’t post anything that I wouldn’t be comfortable with my employer (or any possible future employer, for that matter) seeing.
People who post themselves partying every weekend: What are you thinking? In 10 or 20 years, the potential politicians and corporate employees of tomorrow are going to have to live in a world where there are pictures of all kinds of naughty-looking things they once upon a time shared on Facebook. Either our standards of what we care about will change because it’s so commonplace, or a lot of people will regret their online past lives.
I am also amazed by people who constantly use the location-based social sites. Maybe it’s because they have a phone that isn’t crappy like mine, but even if and when I get an iPhone or Android phone, I doubt I’m going to be updating my location on Gowalla or Foursquare. I don’t want it to be known where I am every minute of every day. It’s called privacy.
When it comes to Twitter, I must confess: I don’t use it the way it’s meant to be used. My Twitter account is pretty much an obligatory afterthought at the moment. As a social networking tool, I should be following a bunch of people on Twitter, and I should then share links with those people and then correspond with them via replies using @theirusername and then retweet their tweets. I understand the value of all of that, and there are all sorts of great links I’ve found by reading the stuff posted by the people I follow. Roger Ebert, for example, is a Twitter madman who uses the medium exactly as it should be used. But I don’t have the will or the time to be combing through my Twitter feed, responding to tweets, and retweeting things I like. Every minute of that is a minute I could be writing TNG reviews or full-length blog posts like this one, consuming my “real” content that I follow in my RSS feeds — news stories, reviews of critics I like, etc. — or for that matter, watching that old-school device known as “television.”
When it comes to social networking, I’m just not that social. Which probably puts me behind the times. To younger generations, I probably sound like a fun-hating old fuddy-duddy right now.
Realistically, I should have a Jammer’s Reviews Facebook page, and I should be out there regularly tweeting instant reactions to things. But I don’t want to (a) share everything on my mind, or (b) create a crapload of new content. One or the other would be necessary to have a vibrant life in the social networking spheres. Choice (a) would require me to delve into things that I don’t want to delve into with the various audiences of my various life spheres. (Have you seen what happens when you make a political opinion known on the Internet? Get ready to be pilloried.) I value that old-fashioned thing known as “privacy”; certain people have a piece of certain parts of my mind, and others have other pieces. Sometimes they spill out into each other, but more often not. (There are people in my real life who have no idea I run a review blog, for example.) And choice (b) simply will suck up all my free time.
Is there a choice (c)? Maybe. I’m not sure. Let’s do that whole social networking thing in the comments below, where you can tell me.
But I do find it interesting how many people are willing to share so much more than I am on the Internet. Are we looking at a future where, by design, privacy doesn’t exist because we no longer care that our entire lives are lived in public view?