I swear, I really was planning on taking tonight off from compulsive blogging, but I just saw this NPR story and couldn’t resist.
I couldn’t resist because, for one, Shereen is a former colleague and All Things Considered my former home. But mostly, I couldn’t resist because I think about this basically all the time. This, of course, being Facebook and general internet-stalking. I do it more than I care to admit. I won’t say all the time, but, well, kind of. I simply cannot resist typing the name of a new interest into Google, and suffering the results. And I don’t know what to do about it.
By now, I think we’ve developed something of a dating etiquette: no Facebook friendship for at least a few months (I’m guessing here, because–ironically, and helpfully, I am prone to men with a startling degree of internet aloofness and the last time I actually dated someone with a Facebook page for more than three weeks might have been in 2008). Based on my experience, though, it’s turned into a sort of dance: who will friend who first?? Sadly, Facebook’s egregious privacy settings have almost rendered obsolete that one precious barrier to dooming yourself to far more information than you should every truly have about someone, much less someone you’ve recently met and are contemplating sex with.
I have one friend who’s taken it to an extreme: she and her boyfriend of several years –they actually now live together–are still not friends on Facebook. It’s turned into a bit of a joke, but I’m pretty sure they both value the inability to internet-stalk one another and the paranoia that inevitability ensues.
Because once you start, there is really no turning back. It seems quaint now how recklessly we approached Facebook before it took over lives. We figured it would go the way of Friendster and MySpace: we friended people willy-nilly. One date, three years, whatever. How could I have known back in the mid-2000s, when my ex asked for my online friendship, that two years later his current girlfriend–and my former best friend, neither of whom I speak to but both of whom are FB “friends”–would post a picture of him naked on a beach and that I would be horrified? (I wish I was kidding about this, but I’m not).
The infuriating thing is that I don’t actually care. I mean, if it wasn’t in my face I wouldn’t care. But it is in my face, and I posses absolutely no discipline to get it out of my face. In fact, I actively put it in my face, because I can and because it’s more appealing than writing a paper or, certainly, grading papers or even talking on the phone. Internet stalking is like reality television, or a car wreck: it takes absolutely no effort and holds an impossibly compelling, grotesque sort of appeal.
I know I should follow the advice doled out in the NPR story and keep my private life private, but please: I am writing this on a public blog in a year when it seems like most Americans have one. I’m not sure that wisdom can really be taken seriously anymore. At least, not by me.
Whenever I think about this topic I remember this brilliant Modern Love column in which Joanna Pearson describes ruining a perfectly promising first date by Googling him beforehand: over drinks, she can’t remember what biographical information she learned legitimately and what she learned online. Her concluding advice, of course, is not to do it. It’s true: there is nothing more awkward than feigning surprise at some personal tidbit that you shamelessly web-found hours earlier.
But when you have access to something, it’s difficult not to use it. Or, as the case may be, abuse it. Even when you know the consequences.
And that’s just the thing: you never really know, until it’s too late.