Social Media: Climbing in Your Windows and Snatching Your Privacy Up

by: Kara Crawford

I spent the majority of my formative years in small towns. Worse yet, I spent the majority of my formative years as the daughter of two pastors in small towns. Now, I’m not here to complain about how hard my formative years were – because on the whole, that period of my life was really good and in many ways set the trajectory for the rest of my life.

But one roadblock to my having achieved the mythical and evasive perfect childhood is that small town people are nosy.

Now, I probably had it better than the kids who grew up in small towns where their entire extended families live in the same town. But of course, given my parents’ being well-known around town, I was known far-and-wide as “the daughter of the Methodist pastors,” or, to the sexist folks who didn’t like that my mom is a pastor, “the daughter of the lady pastor [i.e. the feminist cause of our society's demise].”

So at times, all eyes were on me. And while some kids could get away with murder, I couldn’t get away with anything.

Needless to say, invasion of privacy is a daily phenomenon of small town life. Everyone makes everyone else’s business their business. And if you want to know anything about anyone in town, ask a church secretary – there are the omniscient personae of small town life.

But then again, in modern life, there is another phenomenon of invasion of privacy, but it is permitted invasion of privacy – people are letting other people know a whole lot about their personal lives via social media – often things that I’d probably rather not  broadcast to the world.

Using Facebook, people can now constantly tell everyone exactly what they’re doing, where they are, and with Timeline, people can even see a map of how to get to where they are. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have my precise location broadcast all over the place for everyone to see, even if the post is “only” visible to your 1,768 “closest” Facebook friends.

Particularly because potential future employers can see those posts. And potential present stalkers. Call me old-school, but I’d just rather not have the whole world able to know the intimate details of my daily personal life. That just sounds like an extreme version of the Big Brother-esque small town life I grew up in.

So, why do we do it?

Is it because we want to make our exes or high school frenemies jealous of how awesome our lives are? Of course, most everyone, consciously or not, seems to do this sort of stuff after a breakup, trying to say to their exes, “See? I don’t need you to be happy. I can live my own life with my own friends, without you.” And, of course, to the high school frenemies we want to say, “Look at how awesome my life is! I bet you wish you were me, don’t you? Just admit it: my life ended up way better than yours.”

Whether we believe what we project with all those pictures, check-ins, tags, status updates, and so forth is sometimes up for grabs, but what we often want it to project is the idea that our lives are far more interesting than they really are, particularly directing it at the people we most want to be jealous of our lives.

Or maybe we want to use social networking sites for [gasp] SOCIAL NETWORKING! We want to find people with similar interests, who frequent the same places, who go to the same events, who share our politics, and maybe even who, if the right combination of the aforementioned traits, might be a good person to consider dating.

I’m not sure how checking in to the same location as someone else might be a more efficient way of meeting them than, you know…actually meeting them, but if someone out there has any idea and would like to enlighten me, there’s a comment box below and I’m all ears…well, eyes.

Maybe we want attention, even if it’s negative attention by people who are annoyed to no end by our constant babbling about that we just brushed our teeth or ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, or, worse yet, in my opinion, that our six-month-old just had a really good poop. Uh, who cares?

Sure, maybe I’d care if you got arrested for brushing your teeth and spitting the remnants into the Trevi Fountain or if you cooked a five-course meal for your ten closest friends. And for goodness sake, the only times I want to hear about your babies are when they walk or talk for the first time or other such important events; I don’t need nor do I want to know every time it poops or eats or so forth. So maybe refocusing energy towards something constructive might be a good idea.

Or maybe we’re all just really narcissistic and post all the things we do for pleasure or self-gratification. Maybe the more friends we have, the more wall posts they give us and we give them, the more likes and comments and event and game invitations we receive, the more photo tags we have, the more important we feel and think we look. And the more connected we feel to the world. So, even though we’re spending our days wasting away in front of a computer screen, we feel like we’re actually part of that big, wide world always happening around us.

Maybe we miss the intimacy of that small town experience. Maybe we miss knowing that there’s someone out there who cares about our lives and what is happening in them. And because of that, we feel the need to overcompensate – to tell the world exactly where we are and what we’re doing. To me, this phenomenon seems something of excess.

But do we really have tight-knit community any more? Community of the type that wanted to and did know the intimate details of your life not because they wanted to be up on all the latest gossip, but because they genuinely care?

So maybe what we’re missing is community. Real, loving, supportive, often nosy, but for the right reasons, community. We need to know there will always be that extra pair of eyes on us, watching our every move, but not out of an act of stalking, but rather an act of love.

Because I know that even though the nosy people in the small towns where I lived during my childhood really got on my nerves sometimes, I also always appreciated that everyone cared, and everyone had my back. And although these communities are long gone from my life, they are a significant part of who I’ve become. And that kind of community just doesn’t form over Facebook, no matter how hard you try.

Kara Johansen Crawford is a graduate of DePaul University, with a BA in International Studies and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. Kara has been actively involved in activism and community service for much of her life and is particularly passionate about labor justice, queer issues and engaging faith communities on social issues. Kara is currently serving as a Mission Intern with the United Methodist Church at the Centro Popular para América Latina de Comunicación, based in Bogotá, Colombia. Follow Kara on Twitter @revolUMCionaria and on her blog.

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