Fair warning: this is one of those posts. I’m about to rant and rave about social media like a septuagenarian exhorting those youngsters to get off my virtual lawn. If this doesn’t interest you, feel free to close the window and go back to your streams and timelines.
I don’t hate social media. Hell, I run this blog, I tweet, I’m on Facebook (although I check in about once every other month, to the chagrin of my “friends.”) What I loathe is this idea that every activity throughout the day needs to become part of this single, unwieldy meta-narrative about myself that gets disseminated throughout the world. It’s not that I’m trying to hide anything; I just don’t see the benefit — to me — of dumping every possible scrap of data about myself into someone else’s virtual landfill. (This is not about privacy concerns, though as it turns out, they are legion.)
Oh, I see the benefit to Google and Apple and Facebook readily enough. Targeted advertising alone is worth more than most countries’ GNPs combined, and that merely scratches the surface. What I take issue with is that these companies are insisting that it’s all for my benefit, not theirs. Look how fulfilling my life will be once everything I say or do is connected online! And the latest of the latest? Now all the social networks insist that things will be so much better if you use your real name for everything. Follow on, Interweb lemmings!
I scan through image search on Google a fair amount while doing research for my work. Recently they’ve taken to popping up these annoying modal windows at random, framing their marketing chores as questions. Do I know that I can share what I’ve found with my online pals? Do I want to? No? Well, how about converting all my accounts to use my real name? No? Am I sure? Here, they’ll show me what my real name would look like in print. Still not convinced? (All with no close button, of course. If I’m lucky a condescending button that amounts to: “No thanks, I’m a wet blanket. Give me a few sessions before you hound me again.”)
Sony’s recent PS4 presser insisted that we should all get excited about how their next console will scrape all your social networks and connect all your gaming experiences to everyone you know. Even better, it uses your real name rather than all those pesky, outdated internet handles. Am I pumped yet? Yeah, not so much.
Here’s the thing. I have a large family. I have many friends and acquaintances worldwide, some of whom I haven’t seen or spoken to in years. I have a day job. And I’m also cultivating a presence as a neo-professional writer. Do I really benefit by sending my tech co-workers updates on my niece’s drunken bachelorette party? (Theoretical, mind you!) Do people who enjoy my writing and want to find out about my recent projects need to weed out vacation photos and company milestones? And whose life is enriched by seeing that I just watched an episode of Jersey Shore online? (I didn’t! Honest!) Again, this is not about hiding anything. No doubt it’s all out there if someone truly wants to find any of it. But why would I connect all those dots for them, just to ease their algorithm crunching? And at what benefit to myself?
I have many lives. We all do. And the idea that only one of them is the true me is BS. I don’t begrudge the latest social start-up their revenue stream; what irks me is the dishonesty of the claim that this is all for the benefit of the individual. These companies are building valuable, marketable databases of information. And more power to them. All the same, I’d like to manage my own presence online. But thanks.