Nurse Ruth said…

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  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:

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:


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.

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  1. Sorry I can’t help you with the social media, since I’m a abstainer myself. When people invite me to join them on Facebook, there is always a list of “People you may know” to encourage me to sign up. And Facebook is always correct: I know every one of their PYMK, and about half of them are patients of mine. Too creepy …

  2. Dazzlefish says:

    Facebook generated an awful lot of spam from people wanting sex. The “Little Farm”
    game was odd. Your friends could join you in this virtual farm where you had to buy stuff with real-world money to produce virtual fruit and vegetables. I didn’t think that was fun. The first few friends finding me were hoping I could help them out with money or housing. Many IT people have been out of work a long time. One is now on disability because he had a nervous breakdown. Actually, I think the problem is mine, not Facebook’s. I should have used it to connect with my future, not my past. In fact, maybe I’ll go back and edit the account and do just that.

  3. I just deactivated my page. Yes I’m an activist. A peace activist and non-violence activist. They aren’t the same thing.

    I had so many “friends” I was unfriending people because I couldn’t keep up and I was losing track of my real friends.

    Privacy is, in my opinion, an illusion. Not being on social media sites is irrelevant as far as the bigger reality goes. I closed my page because in local politics it does still matter, and because the ROI wasn’t justifying the time it takes to participate fully. And I’m a fully-participating sort of person. I needed a break. And the Sheriff’s minions will not have it quite so handed to them on a tray.

    I also think the auto-synching calendars have to go. Unless you want everybody to know when you’re home or on vacation.

    Interesting thread. I’m happy to have found your blog.


  4. Amy says:

    Hi there. As you requested in your comment on my blog, I’ll give you my take on what’s so great about Facebook.

    First, I want to just clarify a point. Earlier in your post, you seem to distinguish what you call “social media” from blogs like this WordPress site of yours. Actually, blogs are one type of social media. You’re right that they are different from social networking sites (like Facebook and MySpace) and wikis (like Wikipedia), but they are still a form of social media. So, while you might not be a Facebook user, you are still using social media.

    As far as Facebook is concerned, I just want to reiterate what I said in that last post of mine that you found. The benefit of Facebook is that it enables me to easily keep in touch with my friends, both those in my current city and those in places where I used to live, via the Facebook newsfeed. I’m guessing that you’ve never seen the newsfeed, since you’re not a Facebook user, so I’ll try to describe it. Basically, when I log on to Facebook, I see a list, in reverse chronological order, of everything my Facebook friends have recently done on the site, whether it be posting a status update, sharing a link, posting a picture, or leaving a message on someone’s “Facebook wall.” Your wall is like an online version of the whiteboards or bulletin boards that we put on our dorm room doors in college. And the newsfeed is not just a list of text. Every time a friend posts a video or photos, a thumbnail appears with the post. Even better, I can click the thumbnail and watch the video or browse the photos right there in Facebook. With the click of a button, I can also leave my thoughts/reaction in a comment. In other words, the newsfeed is a visually pleasing method of delivering a large amount of real-time information.

    Facebook also makes this information-sharing process much more social. If I find a video/picture/whatever that I want several friends to see, I can share it with all of them at once by posting it on Facebook. You’re right that I could write to these friends in a group email and share the picture, video, website, etc. that I found interesting, but that process would be more time consuming. Facebook makes it quick and easy to find information, post it so your friends can see it, and re-post information that one of your friends posted so that the rest of your friend list can see it. Finally, on Facebook, my friends’ comments about things I post are organized in a manner that is much simpler to scroll through than a chain of emails. Even Gmail’s email threads cannot compete with comment threads on Facebook.

    As for blogs, I do enjoy the comment feature on all the blogs that I read, and I appreciate that sites like WordPress make it easy for the general user to post videos, photos, links, etc. The problem is that blogs are not centralized. If I had to keep up with all of my friends in other cities using blogs, I would have to visit each friend’s blog individually. That’s a lot of bookmarks to sort through or individual URLs to memorize. If I want Friend A to know about what Friend C said on his blog, I have to bother with copying and pasting the URL into a comment or email to Friend C. That involves lots of typing and keyboard shortcuts to toggle through tabs or windows. On Facebook, it’s much simpler. Friend A’s post shows up in the top of my newsfeed. I think: “Hey! Friend C would find this hilarious!” I click the handy-dandy “share” button underneath Friend A’s post, type @Friend C in the dialogue box that pops up and voila! What Friend A said immediately appears in Friend C’s newsfeed.

    All of that was a very long-winded method of telling you that I like Facebook because it allows me to maintain conversations with all of my friends, all at once, all in one place, even if I live hundreds of miles away from them. Now, I am not claiming that Facebook is a replacement for in-person conversations and interactions. It’s not at all. It is, however, a great substitute when in-person interactions are not possible. Nor am I claiming that everyone should use Facebook. It’s your life. If you don’t want to use it, you don’t have to. But you know what they say: “Don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it.”

    • kitchenmudge says:

      Thank you, Amy. This is just the sort of exposition I was hoping for, to tell us non-users how FB gets used, and what the differences might be between that and email or a series of personal web sites.

      First, I’ll get this out of the way:

      While WordPress might have some features in common with what we usually call “social media”, I don’t think calling all blogs “social media” is strictly true. A web page focused on a series of chronological entries (the definition of “blog”) might have been the first web page ever, decades before anyone started talking about “social media”. One can still use one’s WordPress site as just that, and nothing else. I don’t know whether one has the option to use Facebook the same way.

      A couple of questions still come to mind:

      (1) How do you follow your friends who don’t have FB accounts, or is that an oxymoron?

      While it’s pretty safe to assume that every computer user in the world has an email account, that’s not true of a particular networking site. FB will go out of fashion sooner or later, and then some of you will move to some other host. Will you be able to track each other across many hosts as easily as just filing an email address for each person? It sounds much like having all your friends subscribed to a listserve, except that perhaps each user can choose which contributors’ messages s/he wishes to receive. This can be done by conventional email, but maybe it’s easier to arrange on FB, for the time being.

      (By the way, I’ve been trying to tell my readers how easy it is to upload a picture or video to free spaces on the web, and then provide a link to it in an email, for a long time.)

      (2) When you post something on your wall, can you pick and choose who, among the people subscribing to your posts through an RSS feed, receives it?

      Maybe you didn’t mean to buy into a long dialogue, and that’s ok. Thanks for your comment anyway.

      • Amy says:

        No problem. I hope I managed to explain it well enough to give you a good mental picture.

        As far as definitions go, you’re right that not every WordPress site is a social media site. I manage one for an organization, and we don’t use the blog feature. However, all blogs are social media. They are, in fact, the first form of social media. Trust me. I wrote my Master’s thesis on this, and I can pull citations to back up that claim.

        Now for your questions!
        1) Hah, you’re right. That is somewhat of an oxymoron. I am on the older edge of the Millenials generation, and I can count on one hand the number of friends I have that don’t use Facebook. I do have friends with differing levels of use, though. Some of them, like me, pop onto Facebook every couple of hours, just to see if anything’s new. Some check it once a day. Some more like once a week. You get the picture.

        As for the second part of the question, you are operating under the assumption that Facebook is going to go out of style. That’s merely an opinion. I don’t think you can actually back it up. While it’s true that early social networks sites (which I’m now going to shorten to “SNS”) like MySpace and Friendster are now “out of style,” I don’t think that’s a fair comparison. Facebook, as an SNS, is much more sophisticated than either of its predecessors, both in its layout/navigation and functionality. Furthermore, Friendster and MySpace primarily served societal niches – 20-something new professionals and teens/music fans, respectively. Facebook, on the other hand, is designed for and used by people of nearly every age group, socioeconomic status, education level, race, etc.

        But, even if your assumption is correct and Facebook does go out of style sometime in the future, I don’t think finding all of my friends again will be a problem. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter now all have a handy “friend importing” feature that lets you search, on the SNS, for all the people in your email contacts list. So if some other SNS becomes more popular than Facebook ten years down the line, I strongly suspect this new website will have a similar “friend importing” feature.

        2) Yes you can. Facebook’s privacy settings are actually easy to personalize; most people are just too lazy to go in and set them the way they want. You can differentiate between “everyone,” “friends of friends and networks,” “friends and networks,” “friends of friends” and “friends only” being able to see each category of profile information. For example, I can set it so that everyone can see my education and work information, but only friends can see my contact information. You can also do a “custom” setting and block certain friends from seeing some of your information.

        And that’s just your overall privacy settings. Before you make an individual post, be it a status update, a wall post, or sharing a photo, you can edit the privacy setting for that particular post.

  5. kitchenmudge says:

    At this point, I think I’ll let Amy’s remarks stand as they are, and let people draw their own conclusions.

    Clearly, she has a more specific definition of “blog” than I have. Mine is based on:, but there are many secondary meanings that you can find at:

    • Amy says:

      I’m not sure it’s that I have a more specific definition of “blog.” I share yours. I think the difference is that you have a more narrow definition of “social media” than the one that is widely accepted. See the first paragraph in this Wikipedia article: Clearly, the definition fits blogs just as well as it does Wikipedia, Facebook, or any other social media site.

      • kitchenmudge says:

        The crucial part of that definition seems to be: “the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue.”

        Many blogs are not interested in interactive dialogue. Probably the first weblog was created by some IT worker on a company server, password protected, for reporting on the progress of his project to his supervisor, or others on his team. If that’s “social media”, so is an ink-and-paper memo.

        It’s a very long way from there to what the MSM talk about as the means of communication that presumably facilitated the revolt in Egypt.

        Some bloggers encourage responses from their readers, others don’t. There’s a very wide spectrum out there.

  6. jessicaber says:

    My son’s grandmother was the first person that I ever heard use the word “blog” maybe 3 years ago. She lives in CA and I live in Vermont.

  7. lawman83 says:

    If not profound, your comments about people changing are accurate and should be required reading for anyone thinking of getting a tattoo. Thanks for an excellent post. You not only have a way with words, you have a talent for mating ideas to get them to produce offspring.

  8. kitchenmudge says:

    Just a little note that might or might not mean anything: FB lost 6 million users in the U.S. last month, something rather new:

  9. Pingback: New Blood | kitchenmudge

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