Thursday, May 12, 2011

Privacy in a public world

I'm an introvert.  I've probably said that before, and it hasn't changed.  I'm not a big social fan, although I'm trying to be comfortable with social situations and interactions.  And, yes, I am on social networks- they feel "safe" to me.  I can interact one-on-one with people I miss, I get to know what family and friends are doing and how their life is going, and I can easily share interesting information with people I know.  I do keep my privacy levels set pretty high, for my own comfort.  So when someone I know breaches boundaries on a social site, I get agitated.  I don't like internet "stalkers", even if they are friends or family.  I'm happy to share photos on there with my friends and family, but I'm not a fan of someone copying them to their computer or sharing with others I don't know.  I love the conversation that an article on a hot-button topic can encourage, but when people I don't know start butting in, it makes me uncomfortable. 

At the same time, in a world where so many people are connecting via these sites, to not be on them can be a bit, well, lonely.  And yes, even introverts can get lonely.  How many conversations start with "Did you see what so-and-so posted on Facebook?" or something equivalent?  How many people that are important in my life would I have considerably less contact with if it were not for social networking?  How many events would I not otherwise hear about without these sites?  How many people whom I now consider real friends- not just internet acquaintances- would I not know if it weren't for social sites? Sure, I could make the effort to keep those connections going on my own, but that takes time, energy and contact information that I just don't have right now.  Maybe after I finally finish grad school, but not right now, and even then it would be more difficult than it is with social network sites.

I guess the short version of that is "there are benefits and drawbacks to social network sites."  Duh, right?  So how important are the relative benefits and how annoying are the drawbacks?  At a time when I'm just not feeling like expending emotional energy unnecessarily, the negatives seem to loom ever heavier.  Then someone will post/share/say/do something that I absolutely love and need at that moment, one of my friends to the rescue again, and I just can't imagine not having that connection.  Maybe a day will come when I decide it's no longer worth it, or maybe I'll learn to better balance the pros and cons, only time will tell.  Until that time, all I can do is try to minimize the negatives and continue to appreciate the interactions I do have in that space that would not occur otherwise.  Once again, being an introvert in a social species takes work, but I'm not ready just yet to be a total hermit.

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