Dec 19, 2011

Facebook Timeline and a Culture of Transparency

Posted by in category: transparency

Last week I switched to the Facebook Timeline feature and the first thing that I did was stop and gasp about what my life was like in 2005. I was in the second batch of facebook-ers after it initially left the Harvard-Yale scene. I was a recent graduate working in the real world to design vehicle interiors, but my life style was still very undergrad-centric…LOL…it was actually undergrad on steroids because my income changed drastically.

I think that the generations that were far past their undergraduate experience were received the social networking revolution differently than those of us who are 30 and under. Friends that I went to undergrad with who are in the 30–40 year old range continue (6 years later) to say that they are “too old” for Facebook, reluctant to use it as a tool.

But I see something much different when I talk to the second half of the millennials (people born between 1980 and 2000). In my experience they feel as though they should be able to post whatever they want on the web, to express their individual selves. Of course the adults of the world understanding the pending politics of elitism, pushing the inherited social normative, try our best to censor their individualistic virtues. As far as Integrationalism goes, I think that this type of self-actualization through the vetting of peers is healthy in forcing an identity on the individual that it recognized by the group (which is sometimes different than what the individual initially thinks of themselves).

A healthy argument could be made that we are all just Zombies giving Mark Zuckerberg enough information to enslave us, or that the establish social normative doesn’t break down in the virtual space, because those with information about the etiquette of modernity will conform and outcast the ignorant or unsavory. But I think that if we really want to see some potential of harmony in human interactions, whether physical or virtual, we should make an effort to be more transparent with our individual lives. The emergence of Big Data as a tool that we can use to create knowledge of the vast amount of information that social networks and other virtual domain are generating is not something that should be taken lightly in from an ethical technological innovation standpoint. For the sake of avoiding being a hypocrite I’ve upgraded (yes, I consider it an upgrade) to Facebook’s Timeline.

- From the Integrationalism blog


Comments — comments are now closed.

  1. AnthonyL says:

    Surely Facebook and its heavy users are flying in the face of an eternal truth about people, which is that information about yourself should not all be shared with everybody, including utter strangers, because you cannot trust their response to be understanding, or in line with your interests. Your relationships may change, too, turning a trusted friend into a disloyal one, because of some actual or imagined slight, which means that the pattern of your self censoring must change over time. etc etc The oversharing that Facebook encourages surely has the potential to turn sour later, for any number of reasons. But what is out there on the Web stays out there, so if there is a mistake in breaching your own privacy bubble it is rent permanently, and the embarrassment lasts forever. For these reasons I suggest that Facebook may reach a peak and then fade, in terms of use, at least — the numbers may increase but the usage will fall off. Tranparency sounds like a wonderful thing at first sight because it implies that we can be friends with everyone, but “friends” fall far short of this ideal in practice. Anyone with more than six or eight “friends” is fooling themselves, if they imagine there is actual friendship involved, in the traditional sense of the term. The pendulum is already swinging as the EU (and the US?) now are forcing Facebook to set its default to Opt Out rather than Opt In, and Zuckerberg rapidly took up the Google+ idea of confining info to different circles of acquaintances, rather than all or none. Privacy is just a standard human need and Facebook cannot change this however hard it tries and succeeds in the short run.

  2. Tihamer Toth-Fejel says:

    James and Anthony have correctly pointed out that we change, and that sometimes we make mistakes.
    However, privacy is not a basic human need as much as a practical strategy when dealing with strangers–and one that would not be as necessary if you always knew (as is usual off line) who was watching you. People have lived in small groups, without privacy, for hundreds of thousands of years. Sure, we like privacy, but we *need* intimacy much more.

  3. Tihamer, you took the words right off of my keyboard. I agree totally :-) “Sure, we like privacy, but we *need* intimacy much more.”

  4. AnthonyL says:

    We need intimacy and for people to give us acceptance, ideally 100%, but we need privacy to protect us from those that won’t, and one doesn’t have to be paranoid to realize that most won’t, whether they reveal it or not. Humans are complex and for them to give and get intimacy takes a lot of time, as the multiple layers of privacy are unsealed.

    It is laughable how many people in the world don’t recognize this as an eternal verity, however many people got into the same home, inn or castle bed in the middle ages (amazing how people in the old days could ignore snoring! not to mention smells, coughing, presumably even sex).
    Americans in particular are living in a fantasy world where they think developed personalities can live in (metaphorical) houses with all the windows and doors wide open to the street, and Facebook’s sweaty Mark Zuckerberg exploits this to the tune of $80 billion (is it now?) . Why are Americans so naive? My theory is that it is because the culture is so commercialised now and so media fed that the individual personality doesn’t get much chance to develop any more even in childhood, which is now subject to sugar commercials even for tots. Individual personality needs individual scope to develop.

    Facebook and Twitter offer shallow illusions of personal connection which amount to nothing much compared with even brief personal contact in real life. Why is everyone so excited about it? It seems to be because that’s all they have these days. Virtual life is all a lot of kids growing up in the suburbs and cultural wastelands on the US hinterland have available to develop their individuality. Long live New York, where people do without cars, even, because accessibility to other people and real live events including even the sidewalk is available without owning one.

    Yes people can do without privacy if all they are are shallow sketches of their potential selves, but it is a trend which hopefully will not survive very long, or humanity will not survive it in our current form. Even today as I say middle class people in the US typically seem to have to get to their fifties before they develop even a semblance of the individuality of expression that the rest of the world developed naturally by the age of five or seven until recently, though they are all becoming Americanized too, commercially speaking, it seems.

    Anyone who disagrees with this may not have met the kind of people I am talking about, but you can see the difference in travel shows on TV. Compare Globetrekker with Rick Steve when they visit a country or city — Rick Steves will chattily and superficially line up all the consumption goods for you to taste with the culture as a consumption good too, whereas Globetrekker with feature some cute girl exploring the same material expanded to interaction with all the people in playful friendly and not too serious fashion where often the individual character they meet is as much a subject of attention as what they sell.

    These are two worlds folks and one is Facebook and the other is the village in which we naturally live and my feeling is that the former will be conquered by the latter, because humans don’t change needs and desires in 100 years what they have built up over thousands. We all need to be as individual as we can be to be happy and that means a high level of protection from those who do not accept us completely, and we cant pretend that they are our friends just because stripped of all or virtually all social signals they work as “friends” on Facebook.

    Nothing wrong with trusting other people to be as openminded and generous as we are but as they say, keep one hand on your wallet when among strangers.

  5. AnthonyL says:

    Here is the Times article on the small but supposedly growing number of people who are dropping out of Facebook…038;st=cse