IS THERE SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU IF YOU’RE NOT ON FACEBOOK?
There is a dignity to human privacy which tells of the mystery of being made in God’s image,but try telling that to our social media gurus
An article in the German newspaper Tagesspiegel in the summer of 2012 raised the hitherto unexpected question of whether not being on Facebook means you may have psychopathic tendencies. Noting that neither James Holmes, the Colorado cinema murderer, nor Anders Breivik, the far-right Norwegian shooter of scores of people, were on Facebook, the paper speculated whether resisting social media was now an indication of unstable loner traits. A Hanover psychologist, Christoph Moeller was quoted as saying: ‘the internet has become a natural part of life’ and thus a new myth was born. As if Facebook lacked sufficient publicity, Mark Zuckerberg can now be grateful for the implication that if you resist his devices, there may be something seriously wrong with you.
Allied to recent suggestions that employers see engagement with social media as a reassuring sign of professional potential, it seems that resistance to the corporate megalith is as futile as opposing the Borg in Star Trek.
It is unlikely to remain so in the natural cycle of things, for people eventually resent an embrace this size. Our early infatuation at social media is likely to cool, even as it becomes an integral part of our lives. This third wave of the internet, termed 3.0 (which should be contrasted with a first wave where information was made available and a second phase where all could personally contribute to sources of information) has the kind of inevitability about it which lures us into an uncritical complacency. All innovations are informed by ideology, however, and too little attention has been afforded the thinking of Silicon Valley’s social media pioneers.
For Mark Zuckerberg, the historic dividing lines between public and private which have formed over countless years are inauthentic: ‘having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity’. There should be nothing to hide and Facebook is dissolving these inadmissible boundaries. He has even invented a law to embellish this trend: ‘I would expect that next year, people will share twice as much information as they share this year, and next year, they will be sharing twice as much as they did the year before’. A radical re-shaping of our enduring understanding of privacy is happening without much fuss; the Leveson enquiry into phone hacking is a side-show by comparison with both the voluntary submission of personal information and the uses to which it is being put by the social media companies concerned.
Eric Schmidt, the former Google CEO observes with stunning indifference and illogic: ‘If you have something you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place’. This is reinforced by the ex-Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy who succinctly comments: ‘you have zero privacy anyway – get over it’.
Questions may fairly be asked over the wisdom of allowing a few youngish geeks with relatively little combined experience of the depth and complexity of human relationships to pioneer what writer Aaron Sorkin has described as the biggest social experiment in human history. It may be a little cruel to describe them as such, but it would matter less if they did not arrogate to themselves this power to abolish the division between public and private and to question the right to behave differently according to the company we keep.
In reality, the social media genre is driven by the age-old impulse for profitability. Such media may be free to use, but the vast depths of personal information shared are being fed to the hungry advertisers who lurk in the background. At some stage, a tipping point of opposition to the casual abuse of private information will surely be reached and essential reforms may be implemented.
There is a certain dignity to human privacy which speaks of the mystery of being made in the image of God. Some things are best left unsaid and it is a natural and essential part of being human that we are able to behave in subtly different ways according to the company we keep. Personal character ought to remain constant (see ‘Are we different people on the internet’ in ‘Faith in Culture’) but expressions of personality are a different matter. Mark Zuckerberg has said: ‘the days of you having a different image for your work friends and co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly’. If this proves true, people will become more vulnerable, for we traditionally share our deepest aspirations with those we trust to prize them rather than undermine or ridicule them, which some among the hundreds of friends we claim on Facebook may wish to. To cherish the multi-layered nature of human personality is to honour the mystery and beauty of God himself. If our creator and redeemer can have secrets, can’t we?
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