Saturday, 15 September 2007

I am not a technophobic loon

It's not every day that a national newspaper suggests that I need counselling, or that I get called a 'complete technophobic loon' by Valleywag.

But apparently the fact that I deactivated my Facebook account for a few days in June makes me both a nutcase and a Luddite. I'm not either of those things. In fact I've just spent a very pleasant day reading In The Beginning Was The Command Line and then having a nice amble round the V&A, neither of which really suggests that I hate technology or that I am in danger of taking my own life.

It's true that I did deactivate my Facebook account, for reasons given in this blog post, and it's true that today's Times article quotes from that post. What's also true, but not reported in the Times, is that I rejoined Facebook some days two weeks later, for reasons outlined in this post, and have been on it ever since.

When the journalist said that she wanted to quote from my original blog post in the article, I agreed, because I think that my concerns about Facebook - the regrettable indiscretions, revealing too much to too many people, etc., are still valid ones. But I also said that I had rejoined Facebook quite soon after, and pointed her to my later blog post explaining my reasons for doing so.

Obviously this doesn't make nearly such an interesting story, so I wasn't surprised to receive a reply from her to say: 'I just wanted to let you know that I have quoted you in my article for the Times although I haven't said you re-activated your profile - basically just made the point that you felt you didn't want to mix your personal and professional lives.'

Fair point, thought I, and if I feel I'm horribly misrepresented in the final article, I can always rebut it here on my blog. That's one of the great things about blogging, after all - it gives anyone a right to reply, something that was all but beyond our control in the old days of letters to the editor.

So the truth is this: I am still on Facebook, I am not a technophobe (I've worked in the tech industry for the last eleven years, and I fully expect to be working in it for the next eleven), and I'm not in danger of taking my own life because Facebook made my friendships with people seem less meaningful than I had previously thought.

Facebook hasn't actually altered my perception of my own friendships in any way, other than to cause me to note in passing - just like hundreds of other bloggers, journalists and social commentators - that Facebook and sites like it are rapidly changing the meaning of the word 'friendship'. I'd like to reassure my friends and family who might have read the Times article that the evolving nature of the English language has never yet caused me to think suicidal thoughts.

(I am, however, aware of the massive levels of irony implicit in the fact that a national newspaper in which I agreed to be pictured quotes a blog post of mine in which I say that I am terrified of being tagged in a photo for all the world to see what I look like. Not entirely sure what I was thinking there, to be honest.)

UPDATE: I had a very nice email from Megan McCarthy at Valleywag overnight, confirming that inspection of my blog reveals that I am not a technophobic loon after all. Phew.

It's still the second best thing I've been called on the internet, though.


Valerie said...

They chose their words carefully to be as loaded as possible, of course. "Bid goodbye," "kill the profile," "suicide." I'd assume that the other folks in the article had bigger problems, but I'm willing to bet they were similarly selectively quoted.

As a longtime believer in the ability of networked communications to bring people together, I don't find it particularly surprising that there are some down sides to a social networking site. While LinkedIn does an (arguably) better job of promoting privacy than Facebook, it's also much less easy to reconnect with people whose e-mail addresses you've long since lost track of, and the formal atmosphere of the site discourages friendly chat.

The "limited set of cues" is something we discussed in the early days of Usenet, when flamewars were common and people seemed to go from mellow to furious at a single misplaced comma. Sure, it's limited; but compared with the black-and-white silents of 1982, 2007 on the Internet is Technicolor with Dolby. I think it's just that communication is hard, that people in person mess it up too, and it's just faster to mess it up with more people when you are online...

Tim Footman said...

Why was that article in the Women's section?

Fiona Blamey said...

Valerie: Yes, and mess it up in public, too. But even so, you can't make a direct comparison between the feelings that lead someone to deactivate their Facebook profile, or delete their blog, with the feelings that might lead a person to commit suicide in real life. They're two completely different psychological realms, and to suggest that they're linked is just sensationalist nonsense.

Tim: I wondered that too. In the print paper, it was in the Body and Soul section, which is non gender-specific.