Posted tagged ‘Facebook’

Privacy vs. Freedom of Expression

April 6, 2010

There is an on-going battle happening in America that is as quiet as a cat but as vicious as a pit bull.

This battle is a relatively new one, exacerbated by the popularity of the World Wide Web.

This is a battle that is being fought on all possible fronts: the White House, the Pentagon, the offices of the Central Intelligence Agency, the chambers of Congress, schools, street corners, public libraries, and even private homes.

This is a battle between personal privacy and freedom of expression.

But first, here are a few thoughts to help set the stage for this discussion:

We live in an unprecedented age of information. The social observers of the 1990s famously referred to the Internet as the “Information Superhighway” because of the vast amount of information that is available at the mere click of a mouse.

Today that highway has grown to stretch across the globe; surpassing all national, linguistic, and cultural boundaries. This information comes in all forms: news, politics, opinions, history, art, pop culture, personal stories, etc. The popularity of blogs created in itself a fairly new phenomenon where more people are willing to put their personal lives out for everyone to read.

And this is where things get very interesting. More and more people, some as young as middle school students, are willing to put their private lives on the Internet for all to see. Through written blogs or video blogs posted on Youtube, people share private information about their lives, including their love life, sex life, opinions on politics, office/schoolyard gossip, opinions on pop culture, and anything else that will attract a loyal following.

Internet pseudo-celebrities will post daily (or weekly) videos of them chatting to their “fan base” about whatever comes to their mind. Certain people will tune in because of the voyeuristic pleasure they get from peeking into the seedy lives of “ordinary” people.

I say “ordinary” people because one never knows how real these “confessions” are. Then again, is that really the point?

The rise of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace has given people more channels to advertise themselves. Our world is becoming more interconnected. All this leads to one conclusion: our “private” lives are entering into the public domain like never before.

At the same time, consider the controversy that sprung up in the wake of the domestic surveillance scandal of 2005. It was revealed to the American people that the infamous Patriot Act of 2001 had given the FBI the right to spy on foreigners and U.S. civilians without a judge’s permission. Eliminating the need for a federal subpoena, as argued by dissidents, destroys our constitutional right to “due process.”

Many Democrats and civil liberties advocates argued such a practice violated American’s rights to privacy. President Bush argued such measures were necessary to protect Americans from future terrorist attacks. Terrorists do not respect individual rights, Bush and his supporters said.

The outrage from “Spygate” proves that Americans are not completely willing to sacrifice their personal privacy for the sake of protecting themselves from potential harm. Other similar controversies include the installation of video cameras on street corners, photo-enforced red light traffic cameras, and unwarranted phone tapping.

Yet, there exists a completely different trend in American society. As mentioned earlier, Americans are becoming more comfortable with spilling their deepest, darkest secrets on the Internet. Even if they maintain a certain degree of anonymity, there always exists the possibility that someone will find out who they are.

Voyeurism is the sexual interest of spying on people engaged in intimate behaviors that is normally relegated to the private sphere. Alfred Hitchcock’s breakthrough 1954 film “Rear Window” famously depicted Jimmy Stewart as a crippled man who spends his free time spying on his next door neighbors. When his character witnesses a potential murder, he becomes involved in a dangerous conspiracy that never would have happened had he kept his peering eyes away from other people’s business.

“Rear Window” argues how dangerous it is to step into the lives of private people without their permission. There is nothing inherently illegal about spying on people (other than the creepiness factor), but when watching leads to taking action, a line has been crossed that leads to very unholy territory.

This unholy territory is “stalking,” the practice of giving unwanted attention to individuals by either physically following them, researching intimate details of their lives, or trying to contact them without their permission.

There is a joke among Facebook users that when somebody finds out intimate details about someone by reading information posted on their profile, they are referred to as a “Facebook stalker.” The irony is, of course, that all this information is willingly posted on the profile by the person. This information is available for all eyes to see, especially the eyes of your “friends.”

But sometimes this is no laughing matter. Recently, a Tacoma teacher named Jennifer Paulson was murdered by a stalker who casually knew her in college. Her death signifies how serious stalking can be; that intruding on someone’s privacy can possibly lead to violence.

Naturally, there is no way to monitor this except though self-control and utilizing common sense. The government cannot control what information people are willing to put out there. And likewise, people are limited in what they can do to stop government intrusion on their personal lives.

This is an issue that should be “discussed” more than “debated.” Why are we willing as a society to spill more secrets about our personal lives while at the same time getting outraged whenever we see the federal government intrude on our personal space? Are we becoming more open about our privacy, or are we really becoming more protective of it?



What Facebook Quizzes Say About Our Society

July 4, 2009

Facebook quizzes make no sense. How can you possibly try to describe a human being in terms of what Harry Potter character they are? Or what neighborhood in Seattle they are most like, or which of the “Rocky” movies they would be.

I realize that these quizzes are nonsensical and are not meant to be any serious measure of who you are as a person. But it is intriguing to think about whether people can be described through abstract comparisons instead of traditional character traits like age, race, gender, weight, height, nationality, and personal interests.

Take, for example, a recent quiz a friend of mine took that told her which Hogwarts teacher she is most like. For those of you who don’t know, apparently “Hogwarts” is the school that Harry Potter and his compatriots go to where they learn their wizardly craft. I have never read any of the books nor seen any of the movies (and things shall stay that way forever, mind you), but I know this at least.

Given the fact that I have never read any of the Harry Potter books, I can assume that each teacher has their own special quirks and individual characteristics. And they all must be different from each other, I suppose. And if the Facebook quiz matches you up with a strict and hard-nosed Hogwarts teacher, that must mean you yourself are a stern and authoritarian person. It must be that simple.

This annoying trend is simple in its approach. We are slaves to pop culture, therefore we are dying to find out how we measure up to the people/characters/movies/television shows/cultural time periods that we love. It might be unfair to call us “slaves” to popular culture, but in reality, what we read, watch, and listen to does in fact occupy a significant amount of our time that we spend on earth.

Besides, all of this is very trendy, after all. The plethora of Facebook quizzes are so numerous that there has even been a backlash against it. I have seen several people update their Facebook status to read that they are sick and tired of seeing their friends take these pointless quizzes. How annoying it must be to have your homepage inundated with the latest news of which Shakespearean character your girlfriend is most like (note to the reader: if your girlfriend is most like Lady Macbeth, get out of the relationship now!).

Trends are common in our society. We jump on any bandwagon that seems exciting at the time. We jump on it especially if our friends are too. Look at the almost record-breaking five day opening of Michael Bay’s loud and disastrous “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” With a $201 million box office gross, it was $2.6 million shy of the record set last year by the vastly superior film “The Dark Knight.” (I will confess that I have not seen the second Transformers movie, but judging from the negative reviews it has received, I think it is a safe assumption that Christopher Nolan’s film is a lot better)

So if taking these myriad of Facebook quizzes are trendy, when will it all stop? Maybe when people discover that comparing your life to superficial pop culture creations are not a very good idea nor a good use of your time. People can be so immersed in popular culture that they feel like they are part of it, not just passive consumers. It might be ridiculous to actually think people will believe that they are comparable to “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” but one can never know.

Consider this: with the recent death of pop singer Michael Jackson (I mentioned his name this time), tributes have poured out all over the world. Everyone from celebrities to politicians to common everyday people are publicly telling the world how much the King of Pop meant to them. Baby Boomers who grew up with Michael Jackson might consider him to be the distant cousin they never had. African Americans of that generation might think of him as a hero for breaking racial barriers in the music industry.

There are folks who are mourning him like they knew him. The same goes for Farrah Fawcett, who died of cancer the same day. This goes for any famous person who has spent years in the public spotlight. Us common people may not have ever met them, but we sure as hell feel like we have.

In a more interesting case, during this past Fathers Day President Obama invited several boys and young men from troubled urban areas to visit the White House. He spoke of his absent father and how his story relates to those of the young boys and men, many of whom never met their own fathers. One 16-year-old boy named Danilo Downing, who never knew his father, said the President’s story resonated with him.

“I think of him as my father now. He’s really special to me. He’s an amazing man,” Downing said.

Downing only shook Obama’s hand and received a pat on the back from him. That’s it. Yet despite their limited meeting, this young man considers, at least in that moment, the President to be his father figure. Not a small deal. This illustrates how powerful a public figure’s persona can be. They can change people’s lives without ever having to meet them.

The same goes for pop culture figures. Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, and Captain James T. Kirk have impacted more people’s lives than some actual people. They may not be real flesh and blood human beings, but their appearances on television screens, movie theatres, and pages on a book do just the job.

I’ve had friends who said they cried when a major character in the Harry Potter series died. A character, let me remind you, who exists only on paper. There are those who shed tears for Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, and Karl Malden, I’m sure. And they never even met them. Is there something wrong with this?

Maybe, maybe not. The media are so pervasive in our society that media figures exist almost like a real person. But this is dangerous. We need to realize that those who are really important in our lives are our family, friends, and close associates. Victims in Darfur might be an exception. But, nevertheless, it is weird to mourn someone who doesn’t even know you exist, let along your name.

So now it makes sense why we love to take these seemingly innocuous Facebook quizzes. We need to find out which “Friends” or “Lost” character we are because they are, after all, our actual friends. They might not be real, but that doesn’t matter. We spend time with them. They make us laugh, cry, and think. What’s so fake about that?

There is a media theory out there that hypothesizes that people treat the media like they treat real people. We expect the media to do things that people do: entertain us, educate us, inform us, titillate us. We want the media to be our escape from reality. We even watch “reality television” because their lives are so much more exciting then ours. Our realities are boring. The Real Housewives of New Jersey are exciting.

But, if we consume media to escape reality, but our reality is becoming more saturated with the media, what’s the difference? What are we really escaping? If we spend all our time sitting on our sofas watching reality TV shows, that becomes our reality. There is nothing else. Nothing else to fill our “free” time. The media aren’t our escape. It’s where we have to escape from.

And that should make your mind boggle. But if you don’t want to think about it, turn on the tube and see what Oprah is up to.

Creatures of Habit: The Negative Reaction to the New Facebook Design

March 19, 2009

Human beings are by nature creatures of habit. We like routine in our daily lives. We like knowing that the sun will always rise in the mornings; we can have breakfast, read the newspaper, take a shower, head to work, work, head home, watch TV, and then go to bed. Nothing fancy. Just routine.

But not always.

Sometimes human beings hate routine. Our love for new and cutting edge technology demonstrates that routine can get boring. Routine can be primitive. Routine can become obsolete.

Remember in the 80s when cell phones were first introduced? They were the size of toaster ovens and got horrible reception. Then we had cordless phones. We could actually talk on the phone and leave the room at the same time. What a concept.

Then the cell phone as we know it became popular. Then we wanted iPhones. We wanted telephones that could play music. Then BlackBerries. We want to check our e-mail as well. What will they think of next?

Technology is always improving, and we thirst for the next best thing. Records were a nice way to listen to music, but what about tape cassettes (or eight-track tapes before them)? Or compact discs? Now we can store thousands of songs on a small piece of technology called “iPods.” Yikes.

There are people out there who are addicted to the next best innovation technology has to offer. They need every single new version of Windows and the million updates that are out there. One could even look at it as a competition: I need what the other guys don’t. If I have the largest digital television, the fastest Internet connection, and highest definition computer screen, that makes me the best.

This mentality goes back to the cavemen years when the tribe that had fire was seen as superior. Then the wheel came around. Then sliced bread. You get the idea.

But then things changed. Suddenly, out of no where, people hated the latest technology. And I am of course talking about the new Facebook. There has been a legitimate amount of hate toward the upgraded look of Facebook. I agree. I like the previous Facebook better. The homepage looks way too cluttered. I have to take too many steps just to see my friend’s profiles. And I am not alone.

Facebook constantly updates and alters its design. It’s all part of the desire to make things better, better, and better. Routine sucks. Right? Maybe not.

Maybe consistency is a good thing. The hate toward the new Facebook tells me that people can become attached to what is familiar. The new is not always met with affection and awe-inspired love. There is still a part of human nature that yearns for tradition.

It is comforting to know that people have not completely abandoned tradition. As Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof” can testify, tradition is what makes culture great. And Facebook is definitely part of American culture.

Let’s hear it for monotony.

Making Our Lives Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

March 16, 2009
Technology is supposed to make our lives faster. The purpose of creating, purchasing, and using new technology is to make old, mundane tasks of the old obsolete and usher in a new era of speed, reliance, and efficiency.
But is that always the case? Take the present day as an example. In our age of high speed connectability and vast social networking, are people really that much more informed today than they were a generation ago? One could certainly make that argument.

Thanks to online information networking tools like Twitter, you no longer need to find the news; the news finds you. And there are plenty of features that allows news sources to send you up-to-the-minute breaking news headlines right to your computer’s desktop. No television or even old-fashioned newspaper is necessary.

It seems so yesterday that people had to wait a whole night (a lot can happen in a night, apparently) and wake up the next morning to get their news. Whether it be newspapers or early morning TV news, this was back in the day (“BITD,” as a friend of mine shortens it to) when the latest news didn’t smack you over the head every five minutes. What a relic of the 1990s.

However, on the other hand, one could also make the argument that this give-me-my-news-as-often-as-you-can-and-make-me-a-cup-of-coffee-at-the-same-time technology sacrifices depth for breadth. We might be getting more news, but we’re getting it more and more shallow the quicker it comes. The purpose of receiving text messages with our news is to keep us informed in our busy and hectic lives. No one has time to read anymore. Twitter makes us more able to get the gist of things because, quite frankly, no one has the time to comprehend the news at any reasonable depth.

Thank you technology for making things easier in our fast-paced lives. After all, technology does make our lives easier and faster.

But wait, if technology makes things easier for us, why do we have less time to read the news instead of more? I guess that’s a question the Media Gods can answer. Irony would never be lost on them.

In the meantime, it’s about time that I update my Facebook status. I wouldn’t want anyone to not know what I’m up to at this very moment.