Let me tell you about my first day on Facebook. It was both intense and thought-provoking.
As most of you know – I’m not exactly a wilting wallflower. I’ve done a lot of things, been part of many and varying circles of people, and generally I’ve had myself a hell of a time. Many of my friends from the less-geeky parts of my life have been talking about and using Facebook for quite some time, and I finally caved in.
One of the very first people I added was an old, good friend from my gloriously misspent youth. I had run into him earlier, and he mentioned he was on Facebook, so I looked him up. Once we were connected, he sent me this message:
Hey!! Nice to see you check in my albums there is a photo of you that has sparked the longest comment chain around.
Next thing I know, I see that a photo has been ‘tagged’ as being of me. And I click over to see a picture me from my first year of university. It was a nice picture, nothing embarrassing or racy. The conversation around the picture, however, gave me pause. Let me paraphrase:
Commenter #1: I dated her in high school
Commenter #10: I dated her after high school
Commenter #17: I dated her after #1 and before #10…
Well, where does a person even start on this? As a conversation, this thread was funny & endearing and I am really excited to catch up with all of the people there, they are wonderful wonderful people. Nothing in the thread was secret – and all of the commenters were truthful in their remarks (except that I actually think that I dated Commenter #17 after Commenter #10 not before, but that’s neither here nor there). All of the people in the thread are part of the same circle of friends, and so this is no different than the same people sitting around at a party and looking at a physical photo from a shoebox.
As much as I enjoyed the repartee, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the implications of the situation in general. When my friend posted that picture, only those in his network saw it – generally speaking, those that were interested were all a member of one of my circles of acquaintance. No problem – until I join Facebook, and link all of my various circles TOGETHER. Suddenly, a photo & conversation intended for one circle is accessible to another. Yes, I can ‘limit’ what people see – but would I have the foresight, tools, and memory to figure out all the ways in which I really don’t want past circles to intersect in the future? What about current circles? What about friends who span the circles? I am suddenly the hub, and all my different spheres are the spokes, and those spokes are suddenly connected through me in a tangible, interesting, and researchable way. You may not need to be a direct friend; sharing a friend, a group, or a network may suffice as well (depending on whose account ‘houses’ what discussion, and who you and your friends open your accounts up to).
And once a meme starts, it’s tough to stop. There is a tipping point that could be reached. Why wouldn’t someone from some other part of my life or history cruise through and add his own dating history into that photo thread? Heck, maybe my husband will chime in, he’s on Facebook too. If there was enough interest, I do believe that an entire timeline could be constructed, and what could I do? I could scream and freak out and have the photo removed I’m sure. But such anti-social behaviour would become the object of discussion in turn. When you protest, people assume you are afraid of something :). Taken separately, nobody’s dating history is secret – but peer-to-peer publishing of cumulative results makes me feel vulnerable to the same phenomena occurring around some other, less innocent set of facts.
I have to cogitate on this a bit. And I have to figure out what to do when a professional colleague who isn’t also a good friend wants to ‘add me as a friend’. As I’ve said before, tools like Facebook blur the lines between social spheres, and we all get to slide down this slippery slope together, guinea pigs for the new digital age. Perhaps even worrying about controlling the descent is, in fact, no more than a delusion. For those of us who try to keep some lines drawn in the face of intense social pressure from all spheres to openly network, a long road is ahead. “All in” or “all out” are much simpler attitudes. I love the benefits of Facebook already; they are enough to put me into that scary no man’s land of trying to control multiple spheres, allowing some to meld and attempting to keep others apart.
One final question to ponder – by simply writing about this experience, have I compromised or complicated my ability to keep my social spheres separate? We shall see.
Wish me luck. I’ll need it.