There have been a lot of very interesting responses to my ramble about facebook privacy. Most of them offline, which is intriguing in itself. It’s clear that I didn’t manage to get the source of my unease across, but it has provoked some intriguing discussion.
One friend commented that he wondered if he was one of the people I was thinking of who “didn’t contribute anything” to facebook. This was a fascinating insight, not least because it was in no way intended by me. In fact, he is regularly logged on, so he was not on my mind at all. My concern was with the people I can’t see – the ones who I don’t know are there, but who nonetheless read everything and hence observe my ‘life’ in ways I don’t fully understand, and am not yet comfortable with.
It’s not that people know about me – obviously the stuff I put on facebook is knowingly, consciously public. That is, after all, the point. It’s that people know about me without me knowing about it. It’s all the people who use facebook undetectably (to me, at least). People who don’t post much on their facebook pages, and who aren’t online when I am, who nonetheless read a lot of the stuff I post. My unease stems from the fact that I can’t see them. In every facet of my life until now, can’t see/hear/detect them has been 100% equal to “they’re not there”. (Ok, except when Andrew joins in with the hide and seek, but I swear that’s because he cheats! When he turns up it’s in places I *know* we’ve looked!)
On facebook, however, ‘can’t detect them’ means… well, nothing! So even though I know, intellectually, that anyone I am connected to (I rebel against using the term “friends” in a facebook sense!) can read everything I put up there, it is never reinforced with any sort of tangible reflection of that fact. Until I am talking to them in real life and they reveal their inside knowledge. At which point I am mildly spooked.
Anyway, let’s return to the fascinating concept of ‘contribution’. Facebook is, indeed, a community made up of contributions. People contribute content in various forms, and it reinforces links, helps people share interests, and creates a strange kind of keeping in touch, where you know what people are up to without the inconvenience of having to actually interact with them. Or, at least, you know what people want you to think they are up to.
So if you are a facebook lurker, consuming the content of others but not producing content of your own, what implications does that have for the community? Are you a drag on the system – a dead weight, carried by others? Or are you, rather, an important consumer of content that we crave attention for? (My inner grammar nazi is going slightly crazy at this point, but that is a rant for another time!)
Is there some sort of obligation to produce as well as to consume? Or are all those content consumers out there simply feeding the egos of the electronic extroverts? Stay tuned for musings on the altered nature of digital versus real life introversion and extroversion…