Sunday, July 25, 2010

Facebook is watching

We live in a remarkable age when it comes to the technological breakthroughs we have seen. We can see how it impacts us every day if we will only take the time to stop and notice.

One of the most highly visible examples of this is the Internet and its ability to provide us with easy access to information and other people. This ability is breathtaking. E-mail, chat rooms, Twitter, and other forms of communication have revolutionized how we think, talk, and write.

Every couple of years a new breakthrough will appear and take the world by storm. An example of this a few years ago was Facebook. In general terms, Facebook is a social networking and information service that can allow a person to present a summary of their life on-line to anybody who is interested.

Recently, I joined the Facebook trend and signed up. I hope this is not bad news because I have a tendency to latch on to trends just as its popularity begins to decline. What does this mean? It means I hope it does not become obsolete by the time I finish writing this posting.

In the short time I have used Facebook, I have really enjoyed it. Perhaps the most surprising, if not shocking, aspect of it is how easily it can connect a person with other people on the site.

For example, after I finished signing up, one of the first things it presented me was a list of people I could reach out to and become their 'friend.' The list was vast and included hundreds of people I knew in my childhood and other segments of my life.

Initially, this excited me, but the extent to which Facebook knew my past began to unnerve me somewhat. When I signed up, I provided it with information about my life and agreed to certain terms and conditions. However, I never dreamed it could connect me so quickly with that many people.

I am not referring to people I have not talked to in a year or so. I am talking about people I have not seen or talked to in 25 years. Do not get me wrong; I have enjoyed learning about their lives, but access to this much information so fast made me a little paranoid.

How could Facebook know all this? After all, it linked me with people at my present employer, but I did not present it with any information about my current job. I am sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, but I am not a technical whiz so I can only wonder. It probably has something to do with my e-mail habits, but I am only guessing.

My generation grew up having to read the book Nineteen Eighty-four and fantasies about 'big brother' watching me filled my head as I reviewed the information Facebook provided. Still, after getting through my initial concerns, I have gotten more comfortable with the service.

The bottom line is that any service that allows people to reach out to each other can not be that bad. Technology is like any creation; it can be used for good or bad. However, I think this is a good example of how technology can help fill the gaps between us.

Some would argue that this type of technology is actually a cold way of keeping in contact. They would say that it lacks the warmth of hearing another person's voice.

Maybe. However, I believe that the written word often carries a lot more weight than the spoken word. After all, once a conversation ends, it is over. E-mails and on-line messages can be kept forever.

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