Wednesday, November 07, 2007

In Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam, one of the characters is a high-flying businessman, always leaving his secretary a string of telephone numbers on which he can be contacted at any given hour, should the business balloon go up. The intention is to make him a figure of fun - a control freak too absorbed in work to notice that Woody Allen's having it off with his wife. And yet, nowadays, most of us have that oppressive level of contactability, and our nearest and dearest start to worry if the lines of communication are broken, even temporarily.

Aside from the malevolent and ever-present influence of the mobile phone, we now have to contend with social networking websites. I quite like Facebook as a way of keeping up to speed with friends and colleagues, but it's far from perfect. A friend of mine is a radio presenter. I turned on the wireless the other day to hear a stand-in doing his job. This didn't bother me, but when I logged into Facebook, my friend's page stated that he had “left his job at Wonderful Radio Fab”. I saw that he had removed his work email address and a line of specific information about his duties, and assumed that the 'left his job' line was Facebook's clunky way of saying that he had removed a bit of information, rather than an actual resignation. Nevertheless, I felt it worth sending an email to make sure all was well. Shortly after, the phone rang. It was my friend, happy to confirm that he hadn't done anything other than change a line on his profile. His absence from the airwaves had been due to attending a training course. If it hadn't been for the misleading information on Facebook, I wouldn't have given the matter a second thought.

This raised questions in my mind about what we are expected to reveal of ourselves. Facebook's assumption seems to be that we are now all so candid about everything that removing our job description from a website can only be the result of leaving that job. I removed my birthdate from the site a while back – not as a result of vanity, but because birthdates play an important role in confirming one's identity to banks, insurance brokers, etc. Does the removal of that information change my birthday? Of course not. Elsewhere on the site, I see people revealing, in plain view of anyone with an Internet connection, details of their lives that I'd think twice about confessing to a medical professional. Could we possibly be living in the too-much-information age?

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