Lie down and tell me all about it

May 19, 2011

OPINION By DANIEL BLACKBURN

“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


8 Comments

  1. Bluebird says:

    Great piece of satire Dan. The best you’ve ever done.
    As for Adam someone needs to sit him down and explain to him that breakups make people vulnerable and they can do really dumb things. Really dumb things!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  2. OnTheOtherHand says:

    I don’t always agree with what people post on this site but I have to admit that, beyond Karen’s excellent reporting, CCN also benefits because posters generally have interesting viewpoints. I wonder if that is because they use their minds for things besides time-wasting gossip?

    Count me in as someone else who sees little upside to FaceBook or most other social networking sites. I guess they could be beneficial if used only as a device to spread a particular message (opinion, advertising, etc.) that one wants to communicate.

    In a world with accelerating invasions of personal privacy, I get the feeling that most people do not appreciate how severe the consequences of posting personal info into the digital realm can be. I’m not contributing to this trend if I can help it, but the trend could lead to some serious problems for society as a whole and I don’t think that anything short of a return to the 1960′s or earlier (maybe the 1860′s) will change that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  3. danika says:

    I don’t get the “social networking” craze. To me, social networking is going to Costco and standing in line behind a family of 5 with a full cart! I have no Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Youtube, etc. nor do I feel lacking for not having them. I am a self proclaimed hermit and quite happy to remain one. I do post on news sites when an article tickles my need to share my opinions. Outside of that, you won’t find me “tweeting” any personal information to anyone. Do they REALLY care to know anyway??

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 3

    • Cindy says:

      I have to agree with you. I don’t belong to any social networking sites either. I find facebook to be rather intrusive. If you hit the “like” button on an article you read, it automatically gets posted on your facebook page under things you like! It all sounds like the 6th grade to me with the de-friending and be-friending and all the personal chat for everyone to read.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  4. r0y says:

    Speaking as a bit of a computer geek (since mid 80′s, still building them today), I refuse to get into social media of any kind. I tell my kids the same thing: it’s a deal with the devil, in the end. Not only for revealing one’s inner demons, as Dan points out in this op-ed, but also as yet another colossal waste of time! We have enough texters, talkers, and gossip – now we can put the little devices down and continue on the computer? Actually, we don’t even need to put the devices down anymore; everything is being integrated into one big time-wasting device – whether it’s the latest overpriced iSheep device, the aptly-named ‘Droid, or whatever “smart” phone.

    Seriously, as many think they’re “plugging in” and getting connected, they really are disconnecting from their world around them. Between my knowledge of computers, networking, and the Internet in general – coupled with my years with the NSA, the last thing I want to do is leave digital traces for ANYONE to follow and find. Would you leave fliers with your photo, bio, and other info of yourself everywhere you visit?

    Call me a Luddite Curmudgeon, but I’ll pass on the Facebook/Twitter/MySpace (dead yet?)/blog craze.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 2

  5. willie says:

    Hill and Marx, even at their age, are still just wet behind the ears.
    They both make me sick.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 6

    • hotdog says:

      Little heavy Willie. Are you opposed to their politics, or what?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  6. racket says:

    Excellent hook to get us into the body of the piece.

    I am amazed with what people post on FaceBook.

    And I wonder what compulsion makes them want to post what should and could be Private Business. Now, if I were in the limelight, like Hill, I might use some carefully crafted postings to get the message of my wonderfulness out. Or to get people thinking about something that I wasn’t quite ready to have a two-way conversation about.

    But the upside of sharing personal and perhaps embarassing or damaging details is not clear to me.

    Although, in the case of someone like Hill, he can point to his warts-and-all honesty, and thereby conceivably “make hay” with his constituency. Or something.

    Baffling.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 3

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