How come my male psychiatric patients turn out to
be the same guys who wanted to date me 40 years
ago? And will any of them EVER get a job?
This comment was recently added on the “Ask an Old White Guy” entry, so I’ll assume it pertains to that.
First, if “date” is being used in its usual euphemistic sense, it’s a pretty safe bet that most of the male population wanted to “date” you 40 years ago. Nothing old or white about that, just a guy thing.
Why are they showing up as your psychiatric patients?
If we’re really talking about specific individuals, I’d say there’s some stalking going on. That’s one of the great things about social media, and the web in general. People you never wanted to hear from again can look you up much more easily nowadays. More of this later.
If you’re only saying that the personalities are recognizable from those you knew 40 years ago, well… there’s that tendency our minds have to generalize just to force some kind of order onto our surroundings. Ignoring contrary information is a big part of that. It’s how psychics are able to skew their success rates: forget the failed predictions.
I’ve often thought, when observing people 10 to 30 years younger, that I was seeing ghosts from my past. That’s quite normal, I think.
Will any of them get a job? You’re talking about psychiatric patients, right? Depending on the exact nature of the ailments, some might be less employable than average. In most of the U.S., the unemployed don’t have any health insurance. So if they’re not employed, but getting medical care, that might mean they’re rich and don’t need to work. Too much for me to guess about from here, but you do know the meaning of the phrase “diseases of the rich”, right?
Now for the rant on what you brought to mind: “social media”
First the caveat. I’ve never used Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, or any of those things usually called “social media”. Not having an account with any of them, I’m unable to log in and see the full features they offer. You all are welcome to fill me in on this.
So I’ll start with what I know — what “social media” are NOT necessary for:
Anyone can do what I’ve done here. WordPress is only one of dozens of hosting services that allow you to create a small personal website for free. No knowledge of HTML is needed. They give you templates for everything. Once it’s up, you can post links to whatever you like, and, if you like, post the most uninteresting stuff about your daily life. Millions of people have been doing this for a decade or more, completely outside “social media”.
(Mysite is probably not one of the better hosts. I was in experimental mode when I set up the old blog, and didn’t do any shopping around.)
From an article describing Facebook’s features:
By the end of 2006, Facebook had worked out a program that allowed Facebook users easily to share links to videos and articles in the online publications of numerous new and old media companies.
Was this ever a problem before Facebook? If you wanted to share an article or video, you posted a link to it on your web page, or emailed it to your friends. Are people growing up who don’t know how to do this except through Facebook?
But before going on, I’ll cover something else that applies to what people have
been doing for many years without “social media”.
You’ve all looked at the Wayback Machine on archive.org? Damn useful. Also a good example of how anything that HAS EVER BEEN on the web is likely to be available to anyone, many years from now. Even if you delete your account with your host, and the company deletes it from all their backups and archives (probably impossible), there’s still the chance that some random person saved a copy of your page somewhere. If you ever become a person of interest, it’s likely to be posted again, not by you.
For the noobs, do this now:
I don’t know much about other browsers, but in Firefox or IE, click “File” up at the top. You can then click “Save As” or “Save Page As” and see that it takes about five seconds to save most of the content of most web pages onto your hard disk. Once something is on the web, anyone can do this. If you’ve deleted your web page, you never know who might have saved it before you deleted it. To know more about this, listen to this great talk with Jason Scott: http://recordkeepingroundtable.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/recordkeeping-roundtable-220611.mp3
Now, if you’re over 30 or so, think back about what you wrote in your diary when you were 15 or 20, or what you wrote in casual letters to your friends. Or what you wrote in high school English classes. This is what people are putting on their web pages, very often.
If you’re under 30, it might be difficult to understand this, but believe it if you don’t believe anything else. This is as certain as anything in the world:
ANYONE WHO IS NOT CHANGING IS DEAD. YOU WILL NOT BE THE SAME PERSON 15 OR 20 YEARS FROM NOW.
When you’re 45, some things (not necessarily all) that you wrote when you were 25 will look perfectly asinine to you. It is one of life’s unalterable laws.
This is NOT an insult to young people, saying that they will “learn better by experience”, though geezers can flatter themselves that they’ve done so. It has nothing to do with that. It’s simply that things get old, and people move on. If you were into origami at 25, you’ll probably get tired of it after a few years and move on to painting, Civil War re-enactment, or knitting. To read 20 years later what you wrote about origami when you had the first rush of enthusiasm for it will be embarrassing to you.
So twenty years down the road, when you’re running for City Council, the chances are pretty good that someone will be able to look up your 20 year-old tastes in media, sweeping generalizations you made about everything, such as other people (ethnic groups?), maybe some intimate details of your relations of all kinds. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
So what’s special about the current fad, Facebook, for instance?
Here’s what I think I’ve seen. Correct me if I’m wrong.
(1) It’s very easy to set up, and very popular, and all the members are in a directory where it’s easy to look up people who might or might not want you to look them up.
The dangers here should be obvious to anyone who has moved on from a certain social circle and likes it that way.
(2) There’s a tempting “friend” feature that makes people want to show off the extent of their networking.
Most of my readers are activists of some kind or another, usually not in the “mainstream” corporate interest groups. That means we need to be always thinking ahead to the next big purge. The Red Scare of the 1920s and the McCarthy era of the 1950s were not one-offs. Such things will happen again. Count on it. “Terrorist” is the new “communist”, and any sign that you might understand some of the grievances that make people “terrorists” will make you a suspect. When you’re sitting in front of some kind of “Homeland Security” tribunal, asked to name names, do you really want them to have, all neatly gathered at the touch of a key, who all your “friends” are, with pictures of them, and all of their friends, and all of…. you get the idea?
(3) There’s a “Like” button for you to click on web sites everywhere, that makes a public record for visitors to your site, showing the things that interest you.
See above about how your tastes are going to change over the years, and the permanent record you’re making.
(4) All the defaults are set for all your info to be public. You need to actively look for how to set them otherwise.
No explanation needed here.
(5) There’s a messaging system of some kind for automatically sending messages to all your “friends”.
I don’t know the exact nature of this function, but anything that’s automatic is likely to tempt one to send messages that are not suitable to some of the people on the list. This has always been possible with email, but you set up groups in your address book yourself, rather than having the software set them up for you.
(6) There are some much-touted “features”, such as a toolbar, that encourage users to make their whole web experience go through Facebook.
I’ve seen some articles about this, but I’m not really sure of the dangers. It could be that there are people growing up who don’t know how to experience the web except through their “social media”. This would be like never randomly browsing through a bookstore, but only reading what your friends tell you to read. Will they ever have a new idea again?
(7) Central organization
If half a billion people’s entire web history is all nicely organized in one company’s hands, that’s much less work for spies. Just get into that one place, and you have it all.
Having said all the above, there’s no denying that social media are where the people are, for the moment. If you want to solicit people for a social or political cause, you probably need to be there in some form. I’ll leave this to the brave souls who don’t mind exposing themselves, and all their new “friends”, to the scariest of corporate data mining. But this could call for some original thinking. Maybe a token Facebook page with just links to better things? Tell me the possibilities here.
Readers: Please enlighten me, since I have no direct experience with this. As always, no need to use your real name in the comments.