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Innovation

The long arm of the web, or the Facebook mishegas

You can be private within yourself, but online you are an open book, and that book adds pages on you every day. What is that making of us? What is that turning us into?
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

I called my daughter at her college last night and talk turned quickly from finals to Facebook.

(Mishegas is Yiddish for crazy. Find other fun Yiddish words here.)

She's on Facebook. But she's careful. Instead of her own photo her profile features a picture of our cats (right).

She said she's concerned about a friend, who is now claiming hundreds of friends on her Facebook page, from around the world, and becoming pretty competitive about the online world in general.

Her concern is that the friend needs to stay grounded in reality, in her studies and relationships with those around her. I've got a very mature daughter.

Because she's mature, my daughter's Web presence is light. Most of what you find when you Google her are stories I wrote. It's a reminder to me of how long the arm of the Web is.

Robin grew up around computers. I had her help me review kids' software starting at age three. She has had her own PC with a broadband connection since elementary school.

She is a card carrying member of the Internet Generation, those who will really define the Web for the future. As my generation defined TV but just created the Web, hers will define the Web and create something new.

Because of her experience, my daughter is conservative online. She is cautious. The latest Facebook mishegas, its decision to expose its data to the wider Web, is not going to impact her.

But it might well impact her friends.

Everything you do online leaves fingerprints on the Internet. What Facebook has done is to expose things many thought were part of a private network to the wider world. This is what makes the action controversial.

But beyond Facebook, we are all becoming an open book.

My own name is unique, thanks to a Polish great-grandmother, her influence on my Irish mother, and her compromise with a German father. Google me and you get me, only me. I can't hide online at all.

Your mileage may vary. But even if you share your name with thousands, it's not too hard to pinpoint you, and learn a lot about you. The mountain of data grows ever-higher, and our ability to sift that data grows ever-greater.

There is no place to hide, even if your name isn't Tiger Woods.

Because I am a journalist I long ago decided to try and live as though my every move were getting printed in a newspaper. I acknowledge my past, even the embarrassing parts. We all have them -- past attitudes, relationships, and actions we would prefer stayed buried.

But in the world Robin is growing up in, they won't. You can be private within yourself, but online you are an open book, and that book adds pages on you every day.

What is that making of us? What is that turning us into?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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