Today I received an invitation to join Google+, a social networking site I’d heard various folks mention on Facebook recently. I’m not normally an early adopter of online (or any) technologies: a creature of habit, I typically prefer my old, familiar ways to something strange and newfangled. But since the friend who invited me is someone I know both online and face-to-face–and since this same friend is a “cool kid” who keeps up-to-date with the latest ways of interacting online–I accepted her invitation to join Facebook’s newest competition.
As soon as I connected my Google profile to Google+, however, I had a pang of joiners’ remorse. Already, I feel spread too thin among the various “places” where I maintain an online presence. At any given moment, I share stuff on my blog, on Flickr, on Facebook, and on Twitter. How many more places can I possibly find cool news to post and share, and how many more places do I need to check to see what my cool friends are doing?
Way back in the old days, keeping a blog was all you needed to do to keep in touch with friends both near and far. In the days after my divorce, for instance, one friend used to check my blog every few days just to make sure I was still alive and posting, like keeping an eye on the house of an elderly neighbor for signs of life. Nowadays, though, my blogging friends and I can (and do) go days or even weeks without publishing a proper blog-post, leaving our online footprints on Facebook or Twitter instead.
On any given day, if I want to know how Friend X is doing, checking her or his blog isn’t enough; I also need to check for recent Facebook updates, Flickr photos, or Tweets. Now that Google+ offers another “room” where cool kids can congregate, it might be easier just to call and talk to Friend X to see how she or he is really doing rather than clicking a half different places where such information might be posted.
In this era of smart phones, texting, and Twitter, I feel like a dinosaur when I admit that sometimes I don’t want to “be in touch.” When I was in grad school, for instance, I’d sometimes do research at the public library, figuring no one would think to look for me there rather than the library on campus. The simple fact of leaving campus created the illusion of being out of reach, and I always got more done without the imagined threat of running into my students, colleagues, or friends.
Last month when J and I went to Pittsburgh then Columbus to visit family, I didn’t announce our whereabouts on-blog, on Facebook, or elsewhere: we just went offline like any normal person might have done in the old days, letting our families know when we were arriving while keeping in touch via email with work and school. After we’d arrived in Columbus, however, I realized a high school friend with whom we’d made last-minute dinner plans had mentioned these plans on Facebook, spurring an innocuous but sad-sounding message from another friend whom I hadn’t notified of our trip: “You were in town?” In the age of Facebook and Twitter, simply visiting your family and making Saturday night dinner plans without notifying your entire network of friends can be perceived as a social snub. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, what will happen to the concept of a secret getaway?
My neophyte understanding of Google+ suggests it’s set up so you can sort your contacts into various circles of intimacy, sharing one set of updates with “Friends” and another version of your life with “Family.” This way, if you want to complain about your relatives, in-laws, or coworkers behind their backs, you can conveniently post those gripes in a space where said folks won’t (presumably) see them.
But having blogged under my real name for so long, my posts available for anyone and everyone to see, I’ve learned how to keep to myself any tidbits I don’t want any given relative, in-law, coworker, or friend to see. Instead of relying upon social network circles or online privacy settings to keep my venting rants hidden from those they might hurt, I try to keep most of my obnoxious opinions to myself.
When I was a kid, one oft-repeated saying advised “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” As cheesy and Pollyanna-like this advice might sound, it’s served as a decent blog philosophy all these years. Instead of rushing to Facebook or Twitter to vent my latest gripe or defend my side in a petty squabble, I keep those opinions to myself, allowing a cooler head to prevail.
To some, this philosophy is tantamount to self-censorship; to me, it’s the making of good writing. Instead of broadcasting a first-draft version of the latest round of “here’s why I’m right,” I’m forced to digest said debate, figuring out a way to write about the issue at hand while preserving the privacy of all involved. This takes a good deal more crafting–and thus is far more artful–than the prevailing philosophy of “If you can’t say something nice, make sure you post your thoughts where only your closest, most like-minded contacts can read them.”
In my online World Literature class, we read a Rumi quatrain which nicely sums up my concerns about the dangers of over-sharing in our Instant-Information Age.
What I most want
is to spring out of this personality,
then to sit apart from that leaping.
I’ve lived too long where I can be reached.
Now that all the cool kids are connecting on Google+, where can an old dinosaur go to find a spot of solitude where she can keep her opinions to herself? Now that all the cool kids are connecting online, can we innovate an even more exotic concept: Google Unplugged?
Click here for more photos of Jonathan Borofsky’s “Walking to the Sky,” which I photographed when J and I were in Pittsburgh last month. If Borofsky’s figures look familiar, it might be because I’ve blogged his work before.