If you read this blog even occasionally, you know how ambivalent I am about social networking. I do it mostly because it’s part of my job, to be honest. It’s not that I don’t want to hear from readers — on the contrary, hearing from readers is one of the things I LOVE about being a writer — but rather because my natural resting state is in solitude, quiet solitude, and somehow all these tweets and posts and so forth seem so…well…distracting and LOUD. I often wonder, to be truthful, if the people reading this blog, or connecting with me on Facebook and so forth, are actual readers. How many of you/them buy my books and read them, and how many are just scuffling round the web?
However, every once in a while something lovely happens. On Facebook recently I noticed the name of an old friend from high school on the page of another friend. Huh, I thought, Neil Ornstein. Well, well. Now Neil, and I hope he won’t mind my saying this, was one of those kids in school who was so smart and so talented that he rather intimidated me — truth be told, almost everyone did back then — but he was so funny and with such natural kindness, that in spite of my ever-present feelings of inferiority, I enjoyed hanging out with him. What a pleasure it is to see he’s still making this SPLENDID art. You really should visit his website and take a look. He’s good.
Re-connecting with the talented Neil Ornstein, however, puts me in a quandary. I’ve been distressed by recent reports of Facebook’s ideas on privacy, and have been wondering whether it’s time to get out. And apparently I’m not the only person thinking about this. I don’t like what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerman has to say about privacy. Apparently he doesn’t believe it’s a social norm any longer.
Really? I sort of feel as though I should get off Facebook as a protest to that statement, if for no other reason.
We NEED privacy, people. According to Jan Holvast’s paper, The History of Privacy (available in THE FUTURE OF IDENTITY IN THE INFORMATION SOCIETY, edited by Vashek Matyáš, Simone Fischer-Hubner, and Daniel Cvrcek,) wherein he quotes Alan Westin’s study, Privacy and Freedom, we need privacy for these reasons:
The first is the need for personal autonomy, which is vital to the development of individuality and the consciousness of individual choice in anyone’s life. Privacy is equally important as it supports normal psychological functioning, stable interpersonal relationship and personal development. Privacy is the basis for the development of individuality.
In the second place we need privacy as a form of emotional release. Life generates such strong tensions for the individual that both physical and psychological health demand periods of privacy. It supports healthy functioning by providing needed opportunities to relax, to be one’s self, to escape the stresses of daily life, and to express anger, frustration, grief, or other strong emotion without fear of repercussion or ridicule. The consequence for denying opportunities for privacy can be severe, ranging from increased tension and improvident expression to suicide and mental collapse.
A third function is that of self-evaluation and decision making. Each individual needs to integrate his experiences into a meaningful pattern and to exert his individuality on events. Solitude and the opportunity for reflection are essential for creativity. Individuals need space and time in which to process the information which is coming to them in an enormous amount. Privacy allows the individual the opportunity to consider alternatives and consequences and to act as consistently and appropriately as possible.
A fourth function is for a limited and protected communication, which is particularly vital in urban life and crowded environments and continuous physical and psychological confrontations. The value of privacy recognizes that individuals require opportunities to share confidences with their family, friends, and close associates.
In short, privacy is creating opportunities for humans to be themselves and to stay stable as a person.
If you are a writer, or someone otherwise involved in creative pursuits, who spends more time on the public aspect of publishing, say, than the private activity of actually writing, you would do well to read over that sentence: Solitude and the opportunity for reflection are essential for creativity. And yes, although Margaret Atwood seems, for the moment, to have a shockingly active Twitter life, I suspect she may be doing research for her next book, don’t you?
So many of us, me included, seem rather addicted to Facebook/Twitter and so forth these days. Can we go back? Can we find another way to build professional profiles, to network, even to connect with old friends, without feeling like we’re living in a glass house with no curtains?
And then, too, I wonder how truly revealing any of this is? For most of these sites, unless one chooses to be truly self-revelatory, truly intimate with someone, it all seems quite superficial. I know My Best Beloved sometimes asks me if I’m comfortable with how much of myself I reveal, for example, on this blog. But the truth is I’m quite careful about what I reveal; there is always that temenos, that sacred private space which I keep to myself. It may SEEM as though I bare all, but I don’t actually.
So, have I decided to pack it in and pull up my Facebook welcome mat? No, not yet, but I’m thinking about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts.