Dear Diary

When did we start to trust the Internet?

In a conversation with a fellow Politics student this evening, the topic of former blogs was brought up. ” If you were expecting a soul quenching diary of my romantic history, you’re in for quite a disappointment,” he said.  Well, I was quick to mention that my high school Xanga was just that, as were the blogs before it.  As such, I began to notice a progression from tightly connected networks and an outpouring of personal feeling to a complete disregard for privacy and updates regarding minutia.

My foray into the internet began with a Hotmail email address along the lines of ‘backstreetgirl16″ and using a fake name to keep ‘predators’ away.  Eventually, I got MSN Messenger and added only my nearest and dearest as contacts.  We’d make plans to get online at certain times and hash out the latest details on our crushes.  No big deal.  Soon after were the sleepovers where we’d stay up until the early hours answering questions about our A/S/L with fabricated details in Yahoo chat rooms, giggles abound.

By high school, I had graduated to MSN groups, where users were able to post photos and discussion topics.  These groups tended to be ‘locked’, entrance granted only to those in your immediate friend group with Hotmail addresses.  Then, motivated by the Asian contingent at my all-girls private high school (and boarding school), Xanga became the new hot trend.  Here, girls would pour out their hearts to their readers, friends who would give them ‘snaps’ or ‘kisses’ to show they had read their posts.  My personal Xanga, URL withheld, contained thinly veiled descriptions of dates, romances, and breakups, all along the lines of Gossip Girl.  Some might say I was ahead of the curve.

Next? Facebook! I first got Facebook in grade 12, just a few weeks before the time when high school and college networks merged – the end of what some call the good old days.  Then, Facebook was highly controlled but open  – only some high schools had networks but within Facebook, most profiles were open.  There was no worry about predators, employers, or parents sneaking onto a “regional” network and creeping.  You could almost trust the site.  Compare that to the thousands of wall posts, photos, and friends I have now accumulated and you have a potential privacy hazard.  Even though my profile is on ‘lockdown‘, as I like to describe it, I am still rather worried about the number of people and companies that have access not only my posted but cached and ‘deleted’ information.  This is only compounded everytime I see a tragic story of a teenage life lost on the news coupled with a photo and a “From Facebook” credit.  Further, consider the newest Facebook scandal – the new Chief of M16’s wife posting their location and family photos on her account, presenting a potential security threat.

The newest craze, Twitter, seems relatively safe but I am also starting to question both its purpose and privacy.  While minutia blogging is great for both the narcissistic and the vain, as well as the scholarly and important, what purpose does it have for the rest of us? I understand having Twitter to ‘follow‘ those more important or to post relative links and updates, but having followed Ashton Kutcher and been subject to his inane and self-important updates, I often wonder if mine seem the same way to my followers.

Further, the trend on Twitter is to use your given name instead of a pseudonym, allowing yourself to more easily be found and followed.  While this is great in some respects, it also lends itself to some interesting concerns.  Take for instance Leslie Roberts asking viewers to Twitter about their thoughts on a 21-year old woman’s doctor refusing to tie her tubes during the Global 11:00 news.  Opinionated as I am on womens issues, I tweeted back.

Now, picture this: Leslie Roberts announces that he will be reading the most interesting tweets after the break, screencap of his Twitter feed is in the background. I can see my own tiny image with my controversial comment waiting to be read aloud.  Nervously, given that my conservative father is sitting on the couch opposite me, my hands begin to shake.  I delete my tweet.  Safe! Apparently not.  My Twitter page is shown, my likeness, full name, and opinion exposed on the news.  My father becomes upset, but regains solace in the fact that most of our friends and relatives are asleep and not around to see my ‘embarrassment‘ of an opinion on the news.

It has been easy to see the progression in both how public the Internet is and how much we appear to use and trust it.  Gone are the “Dear Diary” days when only you and your best friends were reading your lovesick blog about your first kiss.  Welcome to 2009, where when you tweet about tubal ligation it ends up on the 11:00 news. Should we be more careful with what we post online or should we embrace the fact that society is so open to our opinion?  Should we censor or photos or live in the limelight and become our own tabloid? I’m still undecided.  What I do know is that I hope I don’t have the same eyerolling reaction to my Facebook or Twitter page as I do my Xanga in 10 years.