Over in Slate, Farhad Manjoo writes about that strange group of misanthropes that slithers amongst us: people who refuse to join Facebook.
I am among these, the 21st Century’s unwashed.
Manjoo interviewed several people who refuse to join Facebook and asked them why. Among them was one person who gave the same reason that I do:
Finally, I heard what must be the most universal concern about Facebook—I don't want people knowing my business! Kate Koppelman is a 23-year-old New Yorker who works in the fashion industry. She was on Facebook all through college, and she concedes that the site has many benefits. And yet, the whole thing creeped her out: "I had friends from back home knowing what was going on with my friends from college—people they had never met—which was weird," she told me. "I found friends knowing things about what was on my 'wall' before I'd had a chance to see it—which was also weird." Koppelman quit Facebook last year. She still uses it by proxy—her roommates look people up for her when she's curious about them—but she says she'll never sign up again.
I want to control the people who enter into my life: who and what they know about me. I don’t want my ex-girlfriend from college finding me. I don’t want that cretin of a roommate who said that he would be so much more successful than me – and turned out to be completely correct – to find his suspicions true. And I certainly don’t want the woman who hijacked my church or the Florida Conference public relations people (I can check IP addresses, folks), knowing what I’m up to now. Cracked magazine joked a few months ago that most of the people on Facebook from your past are just trying to show you up or play head games. And this strikes me as quite plausible. I don’t want to be stuck in high school, college, or even just a few months ago. I want to live today.
And, for that matter, I don’t have much today that I really feel like sharing with the entire world (my exit from ministry and organized Christianity being a notable exception). I started a MySpace page a year and a half ago (under my first name, but quite deliberately, not my last name) when I became a pastor and published it in the church bulletin, but I found that there was nothing I really felt like sharing. I wanted my private business to remain private. This is essentially the same approach that I take with this blog. I rarely write about myself, and usually only in character.
My wife was once compelled to create a Facebook page for a former employer in order to join the workplace Facebook group – and was shocked to see her fellow employees sharing intensely intimate information about their lives on their pages. But Katherine prefers to keep her private life private, and so had little to write about. My MySpace page was rarely updated on the exact same grounds.
I have no interest in being famous (although infamous might be interesting), and so have for several years consciously tried to keep myself invisible on the Internet. A Google search for my name reveals virtually nothing, and whatever information appears must be carefully sorted from that of my more famous Google twin. I prefer it this way. I want to, as much as possible, control who is in my life.
But as Manjoo notes, it is increasingly unavoidable to have your private life public. So I’m going to join Facebook. I’ll use the controls that will restrict access to my page, as Manjoo suggests, but these are really inadequate for the degree of Internet invisibility that I desire.
Under a pseudonym, starting in 1998, I began friendships with great people through Watership Down role-playing groups. This experience, as well as my blogging persona known as “John the Methodist” or “Rabbit John” was a fun way to mediate Internet social networking interactions with the rest of the world, but it has reached the limits of its effectiveness.
Internet social networking is no longer just a fun, optional, and pseudonymous way to connect with people. It’s becoming increasingly mandatory for living in the 21st Century developed world. And with its rise, privacy shall go into decline, for good or ill.