Social Life 2.0

From George Orwell’s “big brother” to Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, science fiction continues to raise alarms about an all-seeing government eye peeping on our private social exchanges. But George O. might find it ironic how willingly we simplify the task. These days with social networks, we’re doing surveillance by crowdsource.

Call it the homophilic urge, we humans feel a yin to communicate, and online social networks are spreading like sunlight. We share photos, conversations, political agendas, the names of all our friends—we love it.

Remember the South Park episode, “The Day the Internet Stood Still”? If all our social network sites collapsed at once, Americans might very likely experience a whole new brand of Great Depression.

Still, who can forget Total Information Awareness, the Bush brainchild that spied on our social network sites? Digital McCarthyism. Could we have made it any easier?

But wait, there’s more. Not only do we freely bare our hearts to the NSA. Social networks also display our inmost desires to direct marketers.

Social marketing, once the province of do-good nonprofits, has now become a mainstream advertising channel, and savvy merchandisers are already mapping our social longings to the latest sparkly new gadgets, available for only $199.95. How convenient!

Even Pope Benedict has weighed in on social networking—on YouTube no less.

Not being a Catholic, I don’t often hear papal bulls, but the Pontiff’s recent homily on the World Day of Communication caught my interest. He acknowledged, “Many benefits flow from this new culture of communication.” But “if the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development.”

Reflection, yes indeed. Note, the Pope disabled the ratings feature on his new YouTube channel. He doesn’t have his own Facebook account, either, but fans created one for him. How often does he check it, I wonder? And who’s mapping his click-throughs?


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