Lie down and tell me all about it
May 19, 2011
“It’s complicated,” wrote Adam Hill on Facebook recently, referring to his marital status.
With this not-so-cryptic plunge into the swirling, dark waters of the new social media, the San Luis Obispo County supervisor now has embraced a trend sweeping the entire planet — that of spilling one’s guts on the Internet.
Far and wide. Forevermore.
Actually, to be fair, Hill didn’t get real wordy in his message to his Facebook friends, who were apparently scouring his page for clues about the rumored shaky condition of the Hill union.
But the supervisor’s word tease said volumes, when coupled with his wife’s parallel action of scrapping her own Facebook page. That caused some of the Hill’s confidants to believe they had been “de-friended” (social media code for “dumped”) and that in turn accelerated the gossip mill.
Now, personally, the health of a powerful elected official’s marriage interests me not at all. But I now feel the inexorable urge to confess that I am alternately fascinated, baffled, and repelled by the supervisor’s participation in this widespread public purging of psyches. It’s like bathing nude in the park fountain.
Confession, alas, is the new handshake, said the poet.
The downsides to this kind of social intercourse are just now coming into focus. Believe it or not, those who trust that their online messages just kind of bounce benignly around the ether and then disappear are not only naive, but senseless.
Actually, this may simply be a form of electronic natural selection. Many a child molester has been removed from the streets by inane ramblings on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and various other social media web sites. Other, more complex criminals are constantly being unmasked because of their gnawing need to boast, confess, or just see their thoughts in print. Confessions to petty offenses such as stalking also commonly result in arrest. Unfaithful spouses have spilled the beans.
And celebrities… where do I start? Even their kids get into the act. Witness the plaintive and public Facebook cry of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s spawn after The Govenator’s growing family tree was revealed.
Lawmen are not oblivious to this self-gratifying phenomenon. The FBI has discovered in the social media what the agency refers to as “utility in criminal cases,” which means that if you hint on your page that you may be a serial killer or the local neighborhood burglar or a parole violator, get ready for a visit from a badge.
It wasn’t long ago that one had to study the words of people to get a glimpse into their inner self. My old friend, the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, mused that “people seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.” That may be true, but it’s also a fact that some people’s Facebook status updates often reveal more about a person than years of traditional psychotherapy.
So your page is “private?” Yeah. Sure. There are dozens of routes open to clever third parties with an interest in your hidden information. Playing Internet games, taking quizzes… virtually all information you input via your computer’s keyboard goes to people and places you cannot even imagine. (I read that on Wikipedia.)
The logical explanation for this penchant for spewing personal information must be what pioneers in psychoanalysis discovered long ago: Pry open their mouths and people can’t stop talking about themselves.
By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, I did not try to contact Supervisor Hill or his wife about their marriage while writing this column. I don’t think that’s any of my business. Do you?
Daniel Blackburn is editor of KCCN.tv