The internet is a beautiful thing. When I was sitting at my desk at Digital Equipment Corporation back in 1988, I never dreamed that I would be discussing via electronic means the next Human League album (“Romantic?”) just two years later with a person living in the U.K. who wasn’t even on the same network I was. When I left that job I kept in touch with ex-co-workers via e-mail on AOL (my username was “JP”!). Then the whole web thing came around and the entire planet was connected, with a few clicks we were able to chat with anyone, anywhere. It that was just the beginning.
Luckily I learned very early on that anything you write via electronic means, anything at all, is stored somehow, somewhere and can turn up anywhere at any time. I have mentioned before that I can pull up Usenet discussions I participated in back in 1989 via a simple Google search. One such message barely contained my excitement that the series “Tabitha” was turning up on a new cable channel called “HA”. (It later became Comedy Central).
I love the fact that I can contact people with similar interests and maintain strong relationships with friends in Toronto and Connecticut electronically and with the same amount of ease and comfort level as enjoying a cup of tea together at the local coffee shop. It’s truly a brilliant thing. However, sometimes I think this new generation forgets that all this electronic interaction is permanent and relatively transparent. You find anything on anyone. For example, last night Earl and I had a few chores to do and ended up stopping at Applebee’s for supper. Because I have an eye for these things, I noticed right off that the server was a very good-looking man in a clean-shaven bearish sort of way. I’ve seen him around town before; he’s worked at other restaurants in the past and I’ve seen him at Saranac Thursday Nights. He’s really good at what he does and as I mentioned before, he is quite nice on the eyes. His name tag said “Scott”. The receipt added an “H” to his name.1
When I got home I pulled out my geek powers and did a quick search on Facebook. I now know that Scott is a few years shy of my age, lives not too far from me, is married (and I know his wife’s name too), was in a band in high school and college, has always had a unique thing going on with his hair, has always been a good looking man, has over 150 friends on Facebook from our area alone, including another waiter that I recognised because of his unique facial hair, who I now know to be named Alex (his profile didn’t have much more than that, though).
Far from malicious in my intent but armed with the right tools, I was able to easily find a relatively substantial amount of information on the person I don’t know. I always keep this availability of any information on the internet in the back of my mind whenever I post something somewhere. And I post a LOT of things. When I auditioning for Big Brother 4, one of the questions I was asked was if there was anything that would be considered “scandalous” available on the internet. I replied with an “absolutely”, which is true, which delighted them. They liked that sort of thing.
There are some reasons that I don’t engage in Facebook as much as one would expect. I mean let’s face it, there is a part of me that has always wanted to be famous and have some sort of notoriety, hence my previous career as a radio personality. Truth be known, Facebook itself is a little annoying to me. I’m not fan of those little applets thingees like snowballs flying around and something about green beer. Granted, I like to poke people to let them know I’m thinking of them. However, anyone can find anyone else on there with relative ease. I’ve browsed. I’ve looked up waiters. I have sought out old teachers and classmates. Aside from a select few from my high school years, there are not quite a lot of old classmates that I want to start chatting with again. I do things and say things that I never had the balls to do or say back in those days and quite frankly some would find me and what I’m about startling. This is not entirely a bad thing but a part of me wants to move on and embrace who I’ve become, not who I was.
Given a choice in this whole social networking thing I gravitate toward Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Flickr. I feel like I have more control with both of those services with careful use of groups and content filters, though Facebook does offer similar mechanisms. I really like the simplicity of Twitter (that’s what’s in the sidebar under ‘The Adventures of Machias’), though I tend not to get into the chat room atmosphere of the software (I liken that to having a conversation with a friend by screaming at each other to opposite sides of a restaurant). I state what I’m doing or thinking and leave it at that for the most part. And naturally, I have this blog that I write in with some regularity (without a prune assist). I think writing and sharing through this means (whether it’s words, photos, videos or whatever) is my favourite form of expression.
At age 40 I’m finding myself to be more confident, opinionated and expressive than ever before. I feel more comfortable discussing things that I used to just file away in my head. I think this is a good thing and it is because of the internet allows me to have a voice and a rather loud one at that. Though I’m loud, I’m also cautious. And all this freedom translates well to the old-fashioned human interaction I have in the “real world”.
1I think the inclusion of this “H” is generous in today’s climate (and rightfully so). Just think, before the year 2000 EVERY customer receipt from Ames Department Stores contained the Social Security Number of the cashier!