Earlier this week, I joined a website called LinkedIn (is that correct–to join a website?) which I’m still figuring out how to use, and it’s freaking me out quite a bit. By this time tomorrow I probably would’ve abandoned it already. I am on WordPress and on Twitter, but in these two sites all they ask of you is to share your thoughts, as opposed to putting your life on display. (Though, admittedly, one can use both Twitter and WordPress to display one’s life just as well if one so desires.)
I write a lot and I do like to talk, but I don’t like to be talked about, whether in actuality or just in my head. Social networks make me severely uncomfortable, though, I realize now, not for the same reasons that I quit a couple of years ago.
For the most part, I think of myself as an ordinary Person 1.0, to borrow from Zadie Smith. In my world, the world that existed before social networks, you met people and sometimes lost touch, when you or they moved to new schools or jobs or countries. If you wanted to remain friends, you had to make a deliberate effort to do so–phone calls, emails, handwritten letters. I’ve kept a good number of friends this way. Granted, social networks make this easier. Sharing pictures and daily updates are less cumbersome than they used to be, and they allow you every so often stumble upon old friends and rekindle old ties. Some of my friends have also made the argument that social networks are best for capitalizing on “weak ties” which lead to more professional opportunities. (Hence my attempt at being more of an adult and joining LinkedIn, but I’ve yet to prove this hypothesis.)
But I am also very well aware that it has taken away certain privileges. Among these is the intentionality of maintaining a friendship: nowadays, instead of expending energy to stay in touch, we only happen to, and this in many cases detracts from the quality of the interaction.
But my beef with it really lies with the converse. This article in New York Magazine laments, in a manner of speaking, the impossibility of cutting ties with one’s exes in an age of social networking. It’s like everyone you ever dated suddenly moved in to the same apartment building and you can be stuck on the same elevator with them on any given day. Before social networks, a Person 1.0 could choose to burn bridges, bridges that would stay burnt except in extraordinary circumstances, and we could live our lives in relative peace and quiet. We were afforded then a privilege we don’t have now: the right to disappear. The right to obscurity, to anonymity, to not having other people know where you are and what you are doing at any given time.
It’s not so much an obsession with privacy, which stems from self-centeredness, but a desire for genuine solitude and quiet, which I believe is central to a healthy human life. I think it ought to be an inalienable human right, this right to disappear, but I find it is one that we are only too eager to abdicate.
My relationship with the internet has been characterized by this push and pull. It’s not that I’ve been outdated by the times; I am simply uncomfortable with the idea of being so attached to a virtual life to the point of being unable to abandon it. I’ve quit Facebook, gone on occasional Twitter hiatuses, and kept and completely deleted at least five blogs in my lifetime, just to remind myself that I am still Person 1.0, and not the Person 2.0 which I’ve invented on the internet. I reserve the right to disappear as I please. There is still a real world, outside the virtual realm, in which I exist, and where I feel most at home and most comfortable, where to write still means precisely that: to put pen to paper, to record life with ink and with blood.