On the other hand (and I’m not the first, nor will I be the last to mention it) there are implicit pitfalls in this rapidly growing virtual arena, particularly for those for whom social skills have not caught up with, say, their computational skills. On Facebook, this leads to huge numbers of pictures by kids of kids at parties acting stupid — yes, stupid — with cigarettes and sunglasses and cans of beer and face paint. It’s kind of sweet and sort of sad and probably meaningless (or so way too many parents of teenagers tell me) and lighten up, I’m told, because they’re just posturing, showing the world just how radical they can be. It’s safe, because after all, they’re not drinking and driving. They’re just on screen.
Or are they? Even if you are super-careful — hell, even if you don’t have a Facebook account yourself — say you find yourself at some random party where there's someone brandishing a mobile phone. And that someone (or, for that matter, someone else) snaps your picture. Soon thereafter, somebody with
a Facebook account “tags” you and there you are — whammo
— your questionable behavior rendered spectacularly public. Sure, the same thing can happen on Flickr (and does) but there’s something about those interconnected six-degrees-of-separation orbits on Facebook that make a seemingly innocent act like "posting" a random image seem both insidious and scary. (Scarier still, many of the more provocative pictures being posted are actually seen as
badges of honor by the people posting them.)
Naturally, people in their thirties and forties (and fifties and sixties) are just as likely to parade themselves through their Facebook albums, and do. But the control mechanism is more conscious, and the editorial process itself is typically a bit more cogent. Sure, there are people my age posting images of themselves with big hair back in the 1980s, but this seems more silly (and sentimental) than self-destructive. (After all, those of us who remember a world before Starbucks are old enough to know better.) No — self-destructive is a thirteen-year old girl posting images of herself in a bikini, and all the boys in her class, and her school, and her neighborhood, and even her friends’ friends commenting on it, all of it screamingly public. Self-destructive is a seventeen-year old high school senior posting images of himself with a bong, or downing shots of whiskey, or lap-dancing with that thirteen-year old in the bikini. Self-destructive is the as-yet unknown ramifications of so much self-publishing, when what we're publishing is our selves.
Who is to say what’s right or wrong, what’s appropriate or not, what’s shared, what’s seen, what’s hidden? Plenty of what’s taking place on Facebook is inherently innocuous, and most of us are willing to take responsibility for what we post and where we post it. A lot of Facebook is seamless and fast, streamlined and effective and fun. But as projections of ourselves, a Facebook identity, made manifest through a person's posted photo albums, inhabits a public trajectory that goes way beyond who and what we are. And it all starts with what — and more critically, who — we actually show.