The Cons of Social Networks

I miss the olden days when I was cutting-edge. I was the first kid on my block to get into computers, and then I was the first Linux geek. I was the first to have my own domain name and personal Web site, and I didn’t even use blink tags, for I was like hip and too smart. For many years I was the only woman in my little corner of geek-land. Now I’m a grumpy old fossil who doesn’t own a cell phone or any other portable electronic leashes, and to me this strange new world of social networking is one gigantic overdose of Too Much Information.

The concept of social networks is not new, because even back in the bad old ASCII days we had Usenet, Fidonet, Bulletin Board Services, MUDs, chatrooms, and so on. It was wonderful– for twenty bucks a month to get online I could talk to people all over the planet. Facebook, MySpace, and so on are the natural evolutions of those early text-based social networks. Now they’re all glitzy, script-and graphics-heavy, full of annoying ads and spam, and new generations of users who faint at the sight of a command prompt. But this new generation are remarkably bold at sharing intimate personal details and humiliations in detail and in color. It’s like those garrulous strangers who pester people at bus stops with gory details of their sex and medical histories discovered it was much more efficient to spread vast doses of TMI online.

Can We Have Some Effing Manners, Please?

There is an even creepier aspect to all of this, that is enabled by Internet-connected mobile devices. Nothing is safe. Back in the good old days a person could pick her nose or scratch her behind in a public place, and maybe it would be noticed, maybe not. Now it’s on MySpace seconds after it happens. You don’t even have to be a geek anymore, just a voyeur with no respect for other people’s personal space, and the ability to click a couple of buttons.

Even worse, online space has become more important than meatspace. In the olden days it was considered rude to invite someone to your home for a visit and leave the TV on. Turn the boob tube off and pay attention to your guests. Now even the President of the US can’t command people’s undivided attention for a few minutes– during President Obama’s address to Congress, hordes of Congresspersons were Twittering, checking email, placing bets, pr0n surfing– OK I don’t know about the last two, I just know human nature, and that a lot of them had their faces buried in their Blackberries like they have attention deficit disorder.

For me, the downhill slide started with call waiting. Don’t put me on hold, especially when you call me. I hang up when anyone does that to me. Cell phones are worse. Live humans take precedence over phone calls, and if it’s not direly important do have the courtesy to let it go to voicemail. For deity’s sake, turn the dratted thing off once in awhile. Oh I know, it’s frightening to be disconnected for a few minutes, but it’s not fatal.

Faster is Not Better, Just More Abuse-able

There are very few events or thoughts in life that are so earth-shatteringly important and wonderful that they have to be broadcast to one’s online network instantly. Multi-tasking is a myth; it’s just another way of saying “slapdash and inefficient.”

I’m wandering on and off-topic here, but that’s OK, I forgive myself. Online social networks can be cool and fun, and like all technologies they magnify everything equally, both good and bad. Now if you will excuse me, I must go finish my animated, motion-sensor activated Linux-powered “Get off my lawn” sign.