Online life as an onion


Too much information.  We all have it blasted our way and we all share it.  Understanding the limits of what we should be sharing and how we should process all this information is the key skill of our time as the Internet becomes the appliance that defines much of our life.  Many people have written volumes on this topic, but in the end the choices are all very personal.

I’ve recently started daily updating on Facebook to give people who know me a bit more information about my daily life.  It was in response to a number of questions from friends and fans who find Barataria a bit too cold and impersonal.  As I advise my clients who have products to sell, the reasons for doing this are not simply to be on Facebook but to use it as a tool to fill a need.  The experience has taught me a few things as I work out the details of where my lines for “too much information” lie.

The problem, for me, starts with my kids.  I had a long-running policy of not reading their Facebook pages and commenting because, after all, this was their world and they deserve to have it.  That doesn’t mean that they don’t show up in my daily updates, meaning that from time to time I couldn’t help but see what they were saying.  I recently decided it was more honest to make a quick comment to let them know that, no matter what, I do see some of what’s going on.  My role, as a Gen-X parent, is naturally based on what I learned from teevee parents – I feed them straight lines and let them do the schtick.  It puts the “fun” back into “dysfunctional.”

That may sound silly – because it is.  I can’t take dead serious a medium that will never be anything other than a supplement for real life. However, my Facebook friends list includes many people I haven’t seen for dozens of years who I’m glad to have some contact with, even in a limited form.  I probably owe them a little more as I learn a bit more about how their life is going.  That line is one that I haven’t figured out quite how to do in a small number of characters every day.

Just today I changed my settings after thinking about it for a week to make my information a bit less public.  I struggled with this because I really didn’t want to make my life so private.  But if I’m going to use Facebook as a more personal micro-blog that gives people a bit too much information I have to control who sees it.  My life thus turns into an onion of information, a series of layers that can be peeled back to gradually reveal the green and juicy parts.

That concept is a bit new and necessary as we’ve moved towards Internet as the communications appliance of choice.  I first obtained ARPAnet access in 1985 when there was only a small clique of geeks like me who had access.  We had similar values and limited ability to really do anything with all the personal information.  I learned to use my real name on everything as a way of keeping myself honest and cautious about becoming too nasty.  There was one layer to the system, and what you saw was nothing except me.  It seemed to work.

While I still write this blog with a clear voice that, if you get to know me is about as genuine as it can be, there’s still a separation which I learned in that old system.  There were some things that were never said in a chatroom or sent out through BITnet chat on the VAX 11/780.  Looking back on it we were much more like 19th Century ladies and gentlemen who kept up some level of appearances and dressed nicely before going out.

Not today.  Today we have the layers of ourselves to reveal gradually.  Defining them and how we all present ourselves to our family, friends, communities, and finally the world is gradually becoming the key social skill that everyone has to learn through trial and error.  I tend to stick to the old ways but I’ll also try to set a good example by setting up the onion of access to my personal life.  If nothing else, I think that those of us who have been around have something to teach those kids who reveal way too much information.  The tools are all there if we only take the time to manage our information rather than simply blast it out into the world.

I think of it as being polite.  Does the world really want all that information about li’l old me?