“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
One-hundred and fifty years ago, without even knowing it, Charles Dickens encapsulated what social networking has become. It does provide the best of times; finding old friends, keeping touch with family, seeing weekly picture updates as a grandchild grows up somewhere across the country.
And, it is the worst of times. People being fired for Facebook status updates, on-line social stalkers, identity theft.
But in what should be an age of wisdom with unfettered access to more information in .29 seconds than Voltaire, Socrates, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Einstein had access to ever in their combined lives, we continue to prove this the age of foolishness, at least, social foolishness.
Luckily (insert sarcasm HERE), technology providers are finding new and inventive ways to help us shoot our own eyes out. Microsoft has released the Outlook Social Connector for Microsoft Office Outlook. Basically, this connects all your Outlook contacts to their information on Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and more. You’ll see status updates, comments, messages and alerts from the social networking sites all in one place for your contacts. Cool for you, but also remember the flipside. Now your boss, co-worker, neighbor, stalker, vendor, customer, and crazy Aunt Sally can all follow your social doings in one place without even having to try.
For some (this guy included) this raises the question of privacy and Big Brother and how much is too much? How “connected” and transparent do you really want your life to be? For many like myself we try to keep two separate identities in the social space; one business appropriate, the other inner-circle friend appropriate and “never the twain shall meet.” (Rudyard Kipling, The Ballad of East and West) However, this is becoming more and more problematic as advances such as the Outlook Social Connector spider out and aggregate material on the fly.
Your best defense? Don’t be stupid. Sounds easy enough, yet a week doesn’t pass where you can’t find mention of someone getting fired or not getting a job because of what information lies in the social aether (yes, this is the correct traditional spelling used in this sense). Use the rule of thumb I was taught as a child. Don’t do anything you’d be embarrassed about if your grandma read it on the front page of tomorrow’s paper. So, don’t post without thinking. Mistakes can follow you forever, just ask Monica Lewinsky, Roger Clemens or Tiger Woods.
Also, use your knowledge to set up as good a firewall between your two personas as possible. Know what Facebook is publishing publicly and control it. If you don’t care, trust me, they sure as heck don’t.
Remember, this information never dies. Digital copy is around forever. Just because you delete it doesn’t mean it’s gone. It could be days, months or years before it shows back up, but it can and does.
I began with a famous beginning, let me end with a famous ending. Just know information, like plague bacillus, never disappears for good.
“He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.” - Albert Camus, The Plague