Just a quick note that this is my 100th post. It’s notable, I think, that one of the reasons I started this blog was to help facilitate work on my novel, and I finished the first draft after just short of 100 posts. No, I don’t see the completion of the novel as affecting this blog much at all, but the coincidence is worth mentioning.
I also hesitate a bit to keep posting about technology, but indulge me once again. Everyone is writing about Facebook, about how Facebook is changing our lives, and blah blah blah. Privacy this and publicity that and so on. (I suspect that one day this Facebook thing is going to seem, and sound, as quaint as the scrapbook or the mimeograph…though I think the social networking site and public address book/broadcast system niche are here to stay so long as we have the internet.) Lost in all this is that participation is voluntary and one has to agree to subject oneself to any level of public scrutiny on that website. Staying away from the whole circus is also an option.
I think Facebook is going to keep experimenting with commercial arrangements that challenge notions of privacy. Soon they will figure out options that most people are willing to submit to. (Well, either that or they will start charging money outright.) Once they settle on a business model, some people will leave, but many – I predict – will stay, because Facebook has lured them in and now a significant number of their social interactions are recorded forever on that site. You leave Facebook, you lose that record, and it’s not like e-mails you can download to your hard drive.
I know Facebook has all kinds of customizable privacy settings and people’s problems on there are largely (though not always wholly) of their own creation. I should say again (I’ve said it in previous posts) that I’ve resisted using Facebook. Entirely antithetical to the purpose of the site, I have a dummy account with a fake name and only two friends (one of whom is my fiancee, or should I say her dummy account) and the privacy settings cranked up almost as high as they will go. Even with this virtually non-participatory arrangement, I can find out an awful lot of shit about people. My problem, rather than being starved for information from not participating, is wasting too much time on there stalking even despite my minimal presence.
I can see how Facebook could be useful to me, let me admit that. But I was thinking about why - despite these potential uses - I remain resistant, and I think this recent article in the New York Times Magazine gets pretty close to the heart of it. It is essentially my attitude toward the past. Over the years I’ve gone through a number of fairly drastic moves and career changes that have been accompanied by changes in self. These are voluntary, and usually for the best, but not always painless - especially in the short term as they are occurring. But I keep growing and I keep changing even as I get older. I know some people become essentially static once they reach adulthood, but I am just not one of those people, for better or worse. Eventually I look back and can hardly recognize who I used to be. I find myself quite harsh toward my former selves, which is unfair, and coming to empathize with and accept them is part of what I hope to accomplish through growth.
At each change point, whole facets of my life become past nearly instantaneously, virtually certain never to be in my present again. (For example, if somehow I am not being clear enough, leaving high school for college, college for grad school, grad school for postdoc, etc. All involve changes of city if not state, career status, job, and almost complete turnover in the people I interact with in real life.) Usually this is a mixed blessing. But it is a blessing, giving me a chance to reinvent myself with maximum freedom and minimum “baggage”. The freedom is what I choose to bring or not to bring with me, and the things and people I choose to accompany me (even if through e-mail and the phone...remember this is before Facebook) tend to be the good stuff. The baggage is whatever bad stuff (parts of me, sometimes people) I can’t shake even though I wish I could.
There is plenty of unresolved stuff from my past (and I know I should stop using the word “stuff” before I start sounding like those horrible Chevron ads, but in this instance it’s fairly apt) and I’m certainly not the best at letting go. At the same time, the only thing stopping me from cutting the cord is me. Facebook threatens to bring the past flooding back like nothing else out there has. And I don’t particularly want the past to be part of now, except in ways that I can control.
Sure, there are some old friends it might be nice to get back in touch with. But getting back in touch doesn’t mean broadcasting terse status updates, and – even without Facebook – if you really want to get back in touch with someone (at least here in the U.S.), you can. Facebook allows a lazy getting back in touch that really doesn’t even necessarily qualify in the conventional sense of that phrase. You can be friends with someone on Facebook and engage in zero individualized contact with them.
And I acknowledge that I can stop the flow of the past - even on Facebook - if I am willing to shamelessly ignore friend requests, but even the fact that I would be forced to think about certain people and make those decisions seems unpleasant.
Sometimes I get so caught up in today that it is easy to forget just how far I have come. No, I’m not saying I came from a uniformly bad place and there wasn’t one good thing back there. But I have come some distance. The people around me now, in the aggregate, are very different than the ones that surrounded me in the past (and the further back I go, the more different they become). I like to sometimes remember how far I’ve come because it provides perspective.
I don’t know, I feel like I’m spilling a lot of words without getting to the essence of the issue. So let me just say this: everyone’s past is a two-edged sword. Everyone has their own relationship with it. But part of the great thing about being an adult in a free country like ours is that we can exert some level of control over how much the past affects our lives now. Not complete control, but some amount. Who I am now, warts and all, was hard-won. That control was hard-won. Others may (and evidently do) feel differently...but I am not going to cede that control to some stupid website.