Facebook and the Death of Privacy

Welcome to the machine.

Welcome to the machine.

It’s difficult when perusing Facebook not to feel like a Peeping Tom. It’s natural to share intimate details of your life with your real friends, but the problem with Facebook is that most of your “friends” are really acquaintances – co-workers, neighbors, business associates, and people you once went to school with.

That’s why Facebook sometimes feels like you broke into someone’s house and stole her photo albums and personal calendar. Of course this discomfort is amplified depending on your age – with younger people more comfortable with the idea of the mass sharing of personal data.

This is one of the consequences of Facebook – the complete extinction of our natural duality. Once upon a time, people segmented their lives: personal and professional. You were the same person, of course, but you put a different face forward depending on which segment of your life you were currently living.

That was the natural state of our existence.

As a result, the tyrannical, overachieving boss could be a loving family man at home, the repressed, straight-laced account coordinator could be a singer in a punk rock band, the handsome young salesman could keep his homosexuality from management, and the nice as nails office manager could be a member of a fringe religious cult. Those were “secrets” we used to be able to keep simply by going home at night.

But thanks to Facebook – that demarcation line has been breached. And it can cause anxiety and discomfort – and outright damage.

Do you post a picture of yourself in a bikini from your trip to Miami Beach? Well, you would if you were sharing those pictures with your roommates or family. But do you want the creepy guy from the office you befriended because, you know, you had to because you work together, to see those snapshots?

Most likely not. Even worse, what if you went to pool party at a friend’s house and she posts those photographs of you in the bikini? How do you control that? Now people that you haven’t even opted in as a “friend” can see you in all your glory.

How about posting pictures of your bachelor party? Should you? And what if your best man posts the shot of you kneeling in front of the porcelain god? Do you want your manager to see that shot, especially if you’re vying for a promotion?

Suddenly, we’re no longer in control of our personal lives.

Warnings to be careful on Facebook – posting photographs and comments that you wouldn’t mind your parents or spouse seeing – usual fall on deaf ears. After all what’s the point of participating in Facebook if you’re constantly self-censoring things like your passion for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons or zeal for Cher memorabilia?

We’ve waded into new territory as we watch our private lives suddenly exposed – with all our human faults, prejudices, and quirks – for all the world to see and, even worse, openly discuss.

So how can we regain control? Well, you can’t, unless you decide to unplug completely. But in future posts we’ll explore how to better utilize your Facebook account and other social media communities (MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, etc.).

I hope you join us in the ongoing discussion.

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