A friend recently mentioned to me that they’d effectively committed social media suicide: Closing their FaceBook account, shutting down all but their most valued Twitter feeds, deleting Instagram and removing themselves from LinkedIn. They told me that, initially it was a frightening prospect, but since doing so, they’ve felt almost as if a burden has been lifted from their shoulders. Whether it lasts is another matter entirely, but so far, so good.
To me, I can’t see what the big deal is. Not having accounts of that sort myself, and finding little, if anything, that would induce me to open one, I can’t really see what the big deal is. Maybe, having not partaken myself, I can’t really put myself in a position to voice an opinion, but from the outside looking in, I can’t find much in the way of attraction – I’ve little to no interest in the boring minutiae of other people’s lives, photo’s of their ugly, snotty kids, gloating posts about their latest tropical getaway, and a seemingly endless stream of pointless videos, irritating memes, and banal re-postings of non-events and articles. All wrapped up in a thick coating of advertising and – as we all know now, all too well – a good helping of data snooping and clandestine sharing.
Then there’s the interconnectedness of everything. I genuinely get paranoid about the invisible links that exist in almost everything we do online. It’s bad enough that I only need to do a search for fence panels or jelly vibrators on Amazon, and find myself bombarded with unasked for ads for those self-same items on completely unrelated websites for the next six months, and for Google to know enough about my travel plans to be able to intrude with uncanny accuracy with apposite advice during any journey.
However, that paranoia is increased exponentially when I consider the information that can be, and is, routinely shared on social media platforms. Take Facebook, for example: If I become friends with someone, I’m automatically thrust into the wider circle of friends and acquaintances that revolve around their online presence… I’ll pop up in the friend suggestions of their friend of a family member’s acquaintance, who I may not know, but a whole bunch of people who I wouldn’t want to mingle with may know – suddenly, all those people from school that I’ve managed to avoid for decades know that I’m alive and well, and have an easy means of establishing contact. And that frightens me.
Why not set up a FB account in your SL avatar’s name, people ask? Whilst, I agree this does set up a layer of anonymity, it’s certainly not watertight, and I know that a simple slip up – a name or location disclosed, an image shared, or a link to a friend who may not be quite as shy or careful as yourself, and you can find your cover blown, or at least, severely compromised. I really don’t want to risk it.
Part of the appeal of SL for me, is the degree of anonymity it affords to its residents. What you know about me is entirely dependent on what I choose to share about myself, and if I choose not to share, you don’t get to find out. There’s nothing nefarious or underhand about this, it’s simply a case of being careful with what I share online and, as far as I’m concerned there’s really little difference in having reservations about handing out personal information to people inworld, from doing the same with people in RL. I work on a strictly ‘need to know’ basis: I’m careful about what I disclose outside of SL, and I’m careful with what I disclose inworld too, not only because it’s nobody else’s business, but also because I don’t think that it’s particularly interesting either.
I wonder do participants in WoW or Minecraft feel it necessary to tell those around them personal details – I don’t know, since I’ve never played either, but I imagine they don’t. Surely the whole point of escaping the real world to a ‘second life’ is that we can leave who we are in the real world behind us, and instead adopt a virtual persona and a presence that is separate and distinct from that reality – there’s no obligation to share and no real reason to, because it serves no purpose in that particular context.
We can, of course, choose to create a connection between the real and virtual, but that’s something that I think we should only do with caution – the same anonymity that protects us can work both ways and can hide a multitude of sins; do you really know to whom you’re opening up your heart and soul?
All of which begs the question: Do you really know what lurks on the other side of my avatar? And is it really something you want to know?
People are strange when you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly when you’re alone
Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted
Streets are uneven when you’re down
The Doors – People Are Strange