Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Over exposed online !

Despite my own love for the online world, Facebook, You Tube and blogging (I still don't “get” twitter!), it’s important to understand how exposed we are all becoming in the digital world of social media.

It’s fun and entertaining to connect and catch up with old friends. More than 500 million Facebook users will profess to that, but what are the consequences of doing this today?

I will avoid the obvious argument that people will lose the ability to communicate in "the real world". I don't really buy that, and I think the online world (to the majority) clearly exists in parallel to the real world. There is also the obvious danger of divulging too much information and putting ones personal security at risk (i.e. party invitiations, addresses, phone numbers, ones constant whereabouts etc... proliferated by sites like foursquare).

Where I have a big concern is the openness that people have with this faceless world.

This is clear and growing in the business world where people will happily communicate by email instead of a face to face or perhaps by phone when a personal meeting is not possible. Email and instant chat have their place in the office (and personal lives) but not to replace human interaction, or worse, to hide behind a screen. Unfortunately. the security of being able to write something and not have to look the recipient in the eye makes people bolder, and often act in ways that are not "natural" to them. One has to question why people should be able to write something that they would not be prepared to say I person?

This kind of behaviour is now common on social network sites. While these can be good tools to be in touch with family, friends and acquaintances, especially those who are geographically diverse, it seems some (many) people take an uncharacteristically free approach to posting status updates online as it feels (1) impersonal and (2) harmless. Unfortunately, both are erroneous assumptions!

Behind the mirror, there are millions of people watching. Some strangers and some you know. Some you are about to encounter. Sitting at a desk, looking at your online account with tens or hundreds of updates coming in each day, it is easy to get dragged into the "conversation". Much like at any social gathering, if you are in the room, you are unlikely to stay in the corner and not participate in the conversation. There is nothing wrong with this per se, except people have to remember that you cannot be sure who is listening and watching your online "conversations" and one has to remain careful and keep their guard UP at these times.

… Which brings me to the second point of whether interaction in the online world is harmless. The debate has been already been played out numerous times with regards to how inappropriately drunken teenagers post pictures of themselves (and others) online “the day after”, and its all too clear how damaging these can be in the present. But fast forward a few years ... these profile pictures and comments that are put in carefree college days stay where they are. You don’t own these anymore, and they sit and wait to come back and bite a few years down the road, personally or professionally.

That is not to say that people behaved differently in the pre-online social media world. Teens were teens and college days were college days, but I can’t imagine people taking pictures of themselves and close friends in awkward and compromising poses and then pinning them to a notice board in a university corridor ... but that’s what is happening today online, there is no difference.

It is in fact the apparent facelessness of the internet that lulls people into a very dangerous and compromising false sense of security.

Now I write this remaining a big fan of social media. I don’t argue for its demise or censorship, but profess that it should be used with caution and awareness. Social media has made its place in our lives and our future, but like many new technologies, we are all living in an untested experiment and only time is going to tell us how this plays out.

Good luck !

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