Always connected

10 02 2009

I’ve been an active internet user (or netizen for the geeks) for more than ten years now, initially contributing to debates in Yahoo groups, then creating my own websites and in the last few years using social networks starting with “Friends Reunited” and leading on to Flickr, Facebook, blogging and, most recently, Twitter. It takes at least half an hour every morning just to see if anyone still loves me.

Combined with the mobile phone we’ve moved from a world where we could be “invisible”, either deliberately or beyond our control, for long periods of time to one where, I at least, start to feel unloved if I haven’t received an email, text or tweet in the last couple of hours. From a world where in 1995 the only way to communicate with my brother in China was via paper letters which took two weeks to reach him to 2008 when he phoned me from near Shanghai while I was crossing into Burkina Faso. I’ve made a friend because he read my blog when in Khartoum, a nice lady in Uruguay (whom I’ve never met) leaves lovely comments and an executive for a UK multinational working in Accra has contacted me via Twitter.

But all this connectivity and sharing raises questions of ethics and etiquette. One of the first decisions I made, way back in 1998, was that I’d use my own name and not be anonymous. This seems a lot less controversial now but the received wisdom then was that “on the internet no-one knows you’re a dog” and obscure monikers were the order of the day. As a result people seemed to forget that the “click1” or “nightstalker” were actually real people who might be hurt by gratuitous insults. Personally I think that anything I’m willing to say in public I ought to be willing to put my name to. I realise there are valid reasons for anonymity but I think it can be abused.

Then comes the Goldilocks question of personal information. What is too much, what too little and when do you get it “just right”? Too much information puts you at risk and risks boring people. Too little and people can’t identify with you as a real person. Just right gets people interested in you as you without seeming a self-obsessed self publicist and also without giving criminals means of stealing your identity. I still struggle with this one.

Facebook throws up a whole heap of questions. How do you respond to a “friend request” from someone you don’t really like but need to keep on the right side of? What do you do about your former colleagues listed as friends but now aren’t particularly interested in? How do you react if someone rejects you or removes you as a friend? And what about all those invites to groups, events, games or causes? Being in Ghana gives me a decent excuse to reject some (I’m not going to be able to get to a talk in London and the bandwidth means that paying scrabble or racing cars is out of the question) but how do I say politely that while I believe the rainforest should be saved/racism ended/world poverty tackled I’m not convinced that adding to my already cluttered Facebook profile will really make any significant difference. And no I don’t want to be a pirate/zombie or whatever.

And all these new channels create nuances of what medium to use. When is a text better than an email? When do I write on someone’s Facebook wall rather than messaging them? Is actually phoning someone intrusive or personal? How much do I reveal in my status/twitter etc? How often should I comment on other peoples blogs? Should I ever actually put physical pen to physical paper?

Finally, am I too obsessed with this “virtual” world? Too busy checking my emails or texting people to enjoy those that I’m actually with? To what extent is Facebook or blogging a distraction from the work I should actually be doing? Does it really matter how many people have read my blog or looked at my photos today? It was actually nice backpacking across America in 1996 knowing it was almost impossible for people to reach me. It was great chugging down the Niger last year free of all forms of connection beyond the people on the boat. Perhaps sometimes always connected is too much.

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6 responses

11 02 2009
Blogexpat

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12 02 2009
Peter

Aaaah, now I found you on Twitter too! ;-)

12 02 2009
Anathema

Thaks for the “nice lady” part, hehe.

Well, I think as long as the relationship with Internet stays healthy (f.e.: you can disconnect for about two weeks without even noticing), there’s nothing wrong with being always connected.

Maybe you should understand (took me a long time to do it) that Internet can’t never be comparable to real life, so having no comments isn’t that people forgot about you, maybe people is reading you but still don’t write any comments. Or maybe they aren’t reading you, but next week they will.

About Inet privacy, and different grades of expossure, it’s a complicated issue. Everyone should know this is public and worldwide, and being aware of that makes you realise the amount of personal data you should publish, and the data you should not.

I think people can’t be always afraid of not publishing anything because of identity burglars, but everyone should be responsible of the content that publishes on the net.

With that being said, let me tell you an anecdote that happened ’bout two weeks ago: The Minister of Interior here (“Interior” is related to the police and internal security of the country) is a woman, and has a facebook profile.

This lovely lady put a profile photo of herself in a shower, and that photo appeared next day in every local newspaper, with hilarious news. The Minister was indignated because her photo appeared in every newspaper in the country and said that was a violation of her privacy.

Fortunately, the association of newspapers claimed that she is a public figure, and besides that, if she wanted to put that picture in the Inet, was because she wanted the world to see her in a shower (hehehehe). She was utterly ofended by this, and put as a profile picture a caricature of her in the shower, and a stabbing knife going from behind the shower’s curtain.

See ya!!

12 02 2009
Ellen

I personally am grateful to modern technology with 2 of my brothers devoting themselves to a life of living abroad!! Being able to pick up a phone and contacting my brother when he’s been robbed to check he’s ok is really important to me and I’m grateful. Being able to email my nieces in foreign parts is reassuring and fun!! I’m not someone who is “online” every minute of the day and can often go 2 or 3 days without switching the computer on – but I like to know that if I need to I can soon contact family and friends even if it’s just to say “hi”.

13 02 2009
Tim Little

Peter: Mildy scary comment, you’re not one of those “cyber-stalkers” are you?

Ellen: I enjoy your phone calls, thanks.

Anathema: Good story, and thank you for all your comments. It’s nice to know someone in Uruguay is enjoying my stuff

12 03 2013
Reading the Web | The Fat Worm

[…] are ideas I’ve pondered about for a while. Back in 2009 I wrote a post “Always Connected” which described some of my involvement on the web, and the challenges it posed. Recently I’ve […]

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