Won’t You Be My [online] Neighbor?

February 20, 2008

Let me just say that I had a blast reading for this week’s class.  Yes, this course sort of does rival those I encountered in law school in terms of required pages per week.  The good thing is, the pages actually have words on them that form sentences and paragraphs and chapters that say something I actually have an interest in.  Or at least, sentences and paragraphs and chapters I can get through without daydreaming of all the other things in the world I’d rather be doing.  I’ve also really enjoyed the links on the class blogs, which brings me to this week’s post.

 My favorite reading for this week was the Jarvis blog on what online friendship actually means.  If anyone else was on Facebook during its infancy, you too probably long for the days when not every person on your friend list knew every move you made at all hours of the day.  There was a sort of mini-revolt when Facebook introduced the feed that now announces when someone makes a friend, when someone writes on a friend’s wall, when someone receives a gift and, my personal favorite, when someone ends a realtionship.  Dumped via Post-It?  Just wait, it’ll get way worse!  Facebook will let everyone in your life know you’re a party of one with a sad little pink broken heart. 

Despite its annoyances, though, I far prefer Facebook to Myspace.  It’s become the classy elder statesman in the campaign for online social networking dominance.  I never get hit on by creepy old men in Florida on Facebook.  No “hot chicks” who “never do this type of thing” send me “messages” asking me to check out the “sexy pictures” they “took just for me, just now!” on Facebook.  I don’t think I’ve ever dated someone I didn’t check out on Facebook first (identifying an obscure literary/musical/cinematic interest on their profile and working a reference into the dinner conversation has proven to be a rather useful tool).  I like being able to send a message to my cousin, my Congressman, my boss, my 6th grade lab partner or my current crush in one convinient location that doesn’t carry the skeevy reputation Myspace does.  

Although the “uncomfortable juxtapositions” Jarvis mentions have in the past have given cause for concern (sometimes I just really want to use the f-word in my status message and can’t, on account of my [Mormon] cousin, my Congressman and my boss all having access), I think Facebook provides enough practical and entertainment value to warrant a bit of self-censorship.

Of course, not all e-stalking is as well intentioned as mine (shut up, it’s totally well intentioned).  I do think that a Bill of Rights for users of social networking sites would be valuable, if it could, in fact, be implemented.  While ownership of one’s personal information is of obvious importance, I would think control of access to that information would be a more pressing concern to the average user of a site like Myspace or Facebook.  Sure, we’d all like to own the information about ourselves that we share with others online, but of greater concern would be regulating access.  I noticed this weekend, for instance, that Facebook now provides a link to photo albums that allows users to share their pictures posted on Facebook with non-Facebook users.  That not only gives the owner of the photos ultimate control over who sees them, it provides the sort of reciprocal benefit suggested in the “Plaxo’s Personal Card” blog by making Facebook a more open and thus more attractive central repository for its users. 

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