Facebook — naked in the public square?

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.

Public peepers

Public peepers

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.


  1. Emily on May 12, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    I really worry about the kids who are growing up with this technology.

    How is it influencing the way they perceive and use privacy?

    I am just old enough to remember life without home computers. I am
    just old enough so that when I was a teen, the internet was un-
    sophisticated and clunky. But for kids born in this new millenium…
    What does it mean to them?

  2. Louise on May 12, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    Funny you should express these doubts about Facebook when you were the one who said that every writer needs to be on Facebook! I totally agree with everything you say here about privacy, and that is why I held out for so long before finally joining a couple of weeks ago. Now that I have contacted everyone I can think of that I wanted to find, I’m tempted to just ditch Facebook and communicate with them by email in the future. But can I afford to do that if I need exposure (a horrible word) as a writer?

    • Lauren B. Davis on May 13, 2010 at 6:21 am

      Louise — yes, I know. That’s precisely the dilemma. From a professional point of view, Facebook seems to be a requirement these days and yet, with Facebook’s stance on privacy, or the lack thereof, I do wish there was another way. I understand they have to make money somehow, but I would rather pay a subscription fee instead of having my privacy tossed onto the midden-heap. For the moment, the wise thing seems to be to limit one’s usage, for the sake of one’s creative energy, and to be cautious about what one posts. As my friend Lish McBride says, don’t post anything you wouldn’t comfortably shout out in a crowded coffee shop.

  3. Sylvia on May 13, 2010 at 12:52 am

    There must be something in the air, Lauren. I recently pulled out
    of Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. Of course, anything on the web
    always stays there in some way, but there is only so much time in
    a day and I was spending too much of mine. And maybe there was a
    bit of the “got the t-shirt” feel about it since I´ve been “out
    there” since the preweb days and my website´s been running since
    2000. What it boils down to is that I want that peace of mind, so
    hard to come by, to actually write, and that includes time for
    moodling and pursuing the almost lost art of daydreaming. Or is
    it a thing like not liking the current year´s fashion style?
    I´ve definitely been able to reflect more and rejuggle my
    priorities. Who knows how long this will last, so I´m making the
    most of it.

  4. Dawn on May 17, 2010 at 11:56 am

    The question is…what are you getting out of Facebook (on a professional level — never mind the fun factor or reconnect with friends factor) that you couldn’t get out of your blog and mailing list? It seems to me (and I’m a Facebook newbie, so I don’t know all the facets, yet) that most of what you post on Facebook is comments on links/articles (works on a blog) or announcements about upcoming events (works on a blog or mailing list). There are photos, too, which admittedly are a little more awkward on a blog, but are those really contributing to your professional goals for Facebook? Your friends/readers comment on your posts, but they can do that as easily on a blog.

    So, what are you really gaining from Facebook?
    1) fun
    2) the publicity of being a little more in people’s faces — yes, you do show up on their newsfeed, but frankly, so do all of their other friends, and so I’m not sure how much benefit this is
    3) find out about what’s going on with your friends

    All of these are, admittedly, perfectly reasonable reasons to want to be on Facebook. But your claim was “I do it mostly because it’s part of my job, to be honest.” If that is truly mostly what you are after, I think you could safely jettison Facebook or at least limit it to a cross posting of your blog, and open it up for read access to the world.

    But maybe I’m missing something else you’re getting out of it.

  5. Maria E Cantwell on June 23, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    This is truly wonderful! Thankyou for posting this!!!

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