Every now and then, I'm reminded of the Internet's power to really screw things up.
As I go about my normal day as a technology journalist, half of the stories I catch across the wire are usually something related to the unfolding social landscape of the Web 2.0. Google's catching Facebook; Facebook's catching Google; Someone is making a new way to interact with Twitter (oh joy!) I find this relatively disinteresting, save for the fact that each new announcement heralds in just one more way by which every action in our lives is transforming into an accessible, traceable record for all to see.
In a sense, we are becoming our own conduits for open data. Every word we type--based on the general amalgam of thoughts we have during the day--is free for the taking, sharing, and eventual manipulation by anyone who has access to where we disseminate our thoughts. Be it a tweet, a status update, a blog, or an email, each crack in the wall of privacy surrounding our daily lives is just one more step toward a presumed future where nothing, indeed, is sacred to the self. We'll know what we like, we'll know what we spend our money on, and we'll know what really hacks us off.
This concept's nothing new. However, in regards to the final example in that list, I was recently reminded of just how transparent our lives have become online--perhaps even without us really realizing it. Like the anecdote of a frog a-bubblin' in a pot, I think that our gradual acceptance of the openness of our various online communities has caused us to forget some of the most basic rules for communicating in a world in which everybody can read and participate: namely, shut the heck up.
A friend of mine from Northwestern University--and former co-editor for the ol' college weekly paper--recently landed in a bit of heat related to comments he tossed out on a general (albeit decently private) listserv for Washington D.C. journalists and other like-minded political folk. David Weigel, a now-former blogger for the Washington Post, had his emails to said semi-private listserv disseminated throughout cyberspace by two particular websites: FishbowlDC, a kind-of Valleywag for DC journos, and Tucker Carlson's The Daily Caller.
So what's the problem? Well, Weigel--like a significant portion of those who cover any topic for any media outlet under the sun--doesn't like stupid people. That's my take on it, at least. Unfortunately, and I say this without any political investment whatsoever, a number of the subjects he previously covered as the paper's former blogger for the right-wing movement were one of two things: stupid, or highly prone to doing stupid things.
I would, of course, expect Weigel to do nothing but offer his insightful sarcasm during situations like these. Unfortunately for him, he did so in a way such that his written words were attached to his written name and, through the help of a diligent reporter scouring the archives of said email list for weigel's messages, made available for anyone on the Internet to read.
I know David Weigel; he's a smart guy. He's no luddite, but I fear that he, too, has become just one more victim of the, "I forgot what the Internet can do" phenomenon--the inflated sense of invulnerability that comes when one's given access to an online social hub.
I'm probably just as guilty as Weigel, what, with my incessant need to offer inane commentary on Maximum PC's Apple stories. But in all seriousness, watching what one writes online is a tough prospect--especially for a writer. I've always been one to celebrate letting one's life fly unrestrained throughout any and all digital meeting grounds. To me, self-censorship defeats the entire selling point of a social network.
That said, perhaps I--and all of us--should be a bit more careful about how much we open our lives up on the Internet. This isn't just some, "get off my lawn" argument from someone who understands nothing about technology. With huge, technological entities making it easier and easier for everything we do to be disseminated across the Web, at what point does the compelling need to connect to one's peers outweigh self-preservation? How can we justify being but one button push away from social or professional ostracism?
And, worse, how am I ever going to delete all of my old "Da Apple Rulez #1" listserv emails?
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software. He does not currently own any Apple devices (don't worry).