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Instant messaging your roommate when you are sitting next to him might seem funny and innocuous, but maybe it says something important. Facebook, MySpace, and instant messaging programs have helped us keep in touch with more friends, but perhaps they are limiting our relationships. How does a “poke” on Facebook compare to a conversation in person, or even on the phone? Perhaps we are too willing to adopt new ways to talk to each other; maybe new technologies are creating bad habits, or more importantly, bad social relationships.
Perverts and normal people alike are spending millions of hours online “cyber-stalking” friends and random people who seem to look interesting on MySpace and Facebook. Adding a “friend” on MySpace and Facebook has an entirely different meaning than making a friend in normal life. Without having received moral upbringings from our moms about how to behave on Facebook or Myspace, we as students are inventing a system of social customs. Social customs make it so that everyone behaves in some predictable way that is beneficial and not offensive. The “poke” on Facebook is revolutionary; when does it end? What does it mean to start it? How can it be explained to an older generation? These are just some of the unanswered questions new technologies create.
Although answers to big, deep questions might not be obvious, most would agree that students need to take care in crafting their digital appearance and controlling who accesses it. Thanks to mirrors, most people are aware of how they look before they go out. And depending on the occasion, we dress and act differently. But understanding how you look and whom you will be exposed to on the Internet can be more difficult and complicated, yet it is perhaps more important. Understanding how you are presented and to whom you are being presented is an important realization which leads towards understanding how technology has created unique social problems. You wouldn’t want your professor or job interviewer to see you doing that drunken keg stand from last weekend, but your buddies might think it was awesome.
Beyond crafting a responsible image, let’s consider those seeking romance on the Internet. The low pressure interface of a chatroom allows shy people to find someone they might like. It might also allow people to cop-out of confronting normal, “healthy” social situations. Creating relationships over the web in chatrooms, virtual environments like SecondLife, or using dating sites is revolutionary. Websites like eHarmony link users based on a set of questions that determines compatibility. A computer program sifts through thousands of users and matches human relationships; a computer program is responsible for creating romantic, potentially reproductive, relationships. Isn’t this a bit odd?
While pokes and other features of social networking seem pretty harmless and funny, or even useful, deep and important issues of privacy loom. Our parents’ generation would never dream of sharing half the information that is routinely emblazoned on the average sophomore’s Facebook wall. Thinking about the implications of these attitudes and how they will form our privacy expectations in the future is fascinating. What is maybe more interesting is considering how our expectations of privacy will be able to fit in a world with generations expecting a great deal more privacy. But then again, maybe we as students are better at seeing that with new technologies increasingly little privacy can exist; so if you can’t beat ‘em, join em.
The Cydent site was supported in part by a grant from the Santa Clara University Technology Steering Committee. It was the Hackworth Fellowship project of Santa Clara University senior Christopher Foster.