Quicksands of Connectivity

There is no such thing as a thought born in a vacuum. From the shallow to the profound, they all exist in relation to something – another thought, a person, an experience, a view. And so, the remains of yesterday’s post, little bits and bobs that didn’t make it into the final cut, or were not pertinent to it, kept knocking around in my brain, met some more thoughts, and kept on knocking until I had to give it a reflection of its own.

I sometimes feel like social obligations are like quicksand – the more you struggle, the further you sink in, and unless someone tosses you a rope, you are pretty much done for. There are situations where a few well-picked words can help you cut through the bullshit, but because of the rules of social niceties, those words are often considered rude, and the people using them as antisocial.

And social media isn’t helping matters.

This is where, again, I need to put in the obligatory disclaimer that I’m not hating on social media and the social media users. To do so would be horribly hypocritical, and I won’t pretend that I don’t log onto FB and Twitter multiple times a day, to say nothing of more specialized networking sites. This post isn’t about the benefits of the Internet and of general connectivity.

Let us set also aside the frankly dubious ethical practice of Facebook and other social media sites to sell our private data to advertisers. Advertisement pays for all the free content we get online – whether we like it, or whether the profits of it are equally and fairly distributed, is a question for a whole other day. Instead, let’s talk about how the privacy algorithms fuck us up.

Can we agree that participation in social media has become near mandatory for everyone (under a certain age in the Western world)? It’s not just to see your friends’ holiday photos or read their minute observations on their day – nowadys, your friends are exclusively on Facebook. Meetups get organized through the events function rather than via email, or the phone. If you’re part of a group or a team, you go on FB for events schedule. Your coworkers and boss post the rota online. Your coworkers and boss also expect you to like event announcements so that they know that everyone knows. AND YES, ALL OF THOSE THINGS ARE OK IN OF THEMSELVES, but it makes it hard for you to opt out of social media.

And even if you don’t have an ethical beef with companies selling your data to advertisers, there are other reasons why you might not want to be on Facebook. In fact, here’s a short, non-exhaustive sample of those reasons:

  • Privacy is opt-in. Even if you are on a website with clear, simple settings, you have to make sure that your profile is not open to the public and that only certain things are visible to your non-friends.
  • Even when you’ve put your privacy settings at their highest, there is still the risk of a moderator making a forum public, or a glitch happening, or you accidentally sharing something with a wider public, or someone re-posting something you said publicly.
  • Once made public, this information is going to remain out there, easily searchable, for the rest of eternity.
  • You get notifications for everything. Even if you say you don’t want to, you still might get notifications, pings, emails clogging up your inbox. If there is important stuff there, it’s usually lost in the landfill.
  • Social niceties. Oh, god, the social niceties. Not only do you have to endure being tagged in pictures from back before you were in a training bra (some of which you’d rather not see yourself, let alone show to your friends) you also have to deal with friend requests from people you haven’t spoken to in a decade and who, as far as you can remember, didn’t even like you.
  • On the other hand, because you clearly share acquaintances with a certain person, your profiles will get thrown up in the “recommended connections” bar which I still cannot get rid of and is driving me nuts.
  • For some people, so much as seeing a person’s profile picture can cause them intense stress. No, I don’t want to be friends with the guy who bullied me in high school, you stupid site, why do you keep throwing that profile at me?
  • Blocking people is considered a last resort, but only unfollowing them doesn’t guarantee that your profile is hidden from them. I would sometimes receive event invitations or likes from people I would rather not see, ever, but because apparently I can’t escape without giving offense, I have to keep declining and readjusting my settings, as if my Facebook page is a piano that is constantly out of tune.
  • Parents and siblings commenting on photos from your nights out with friends. ‘Nuff said.

As much as people praise social media (and again, I like it. Most of the time) the sad truth is that our privacy is a matter of a mathematical algorithm, which we fight and yet somehow we never completely vanquish. The price of staying connected is more than just a few ads in the margin of our newsfeed – it is a constant, incessant intrusion on our time, and a battle to carve out a space for ourselves and the people we are friends with. Offline, it’s easy enough to walk away from the people we don’t want to see – even the most persistent of mutual friends can be made to understand eventually that we don’t want to be thrown together. They can accept that you know what’s best for you and let it go.

Can you really say that you can argue that with an algorithm?


One thought on “Quicksands of Connectivity

  1. Pingback: Putting my money where my mouth is: Week 2 | into the quick sands we go

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