Sunday July 21st 2019

We are all becoming stalkers

Social Media expert Karen Jeynes shares her thoughts on the latest conundrums and developments in the fast-paced world of social media technology and culture.

There are several people up in arms about geotagging – apps like Foursquare, for example, or Twitter and Facebook adding locations to your updates. These complaining people normally are not very active online. Frequently they are parents concerned for their child’s “safety”. Why you are letting your child use these apps or services without your supervision in the first place is beyond me, but that’s a story for another day.

What most people seem to be overlooking is the insidious way that an increasingly online culture is turning us all into stalkers. Take Skype, for example – those little updates that pop up whenever one of your contacts come online. You might not even be aware that you notice these. Or how about Facebook chat, or Google chat? Or – and this is my favourite one – how often have you been waiting desperately for an email from someone, and you see that they’ve posted on Facebook or Tweeted and you resent them bitterly for it? I’ve done the opposite – deliberately NOT written on Facebook because I know that people whose emails I haven’t responded to will see me and JUDGE. Never mind people knowing where we are in real life, it’s people knowing where we are online that scares me!

Several of my friends’ first instinct on meeting a new potential love interest, colleague, or indeed random acquaintance,is to Google them. This is so commonly accepted these days that it’s bizarre not to. Sometimes, this is incredibly helpful; for example you can see what someone looks like so that on turning up to the business meeting you greet them immediately, and don’t inadvertently yawn and knock their coffee over before realising they’re the person you’re wanting to impress. (I am totally not talking from personal experience, Shhhhh) But sometimes this can be hurtful – to the other person or indeed to ourselves. Learning too much too soon about a potential love interest can put you off, or detract from the old fashioned magic of “getting to know you, getting to know who you are”…

As the internet becomes, to a greater extent, a place where we live – if Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populous country in the world – it’s crucial for us to realise that it is an entirely public space, and our every move is being watched. And while people rant and rail about Google searching our mails to offer us shopping suggestions, or Facebook sharing our pictures in their adverts, what many fail to realise is that the people we have most to be aware of are those we have designated as our “friends”. The internet is pushing us into this: my Facebook newsfeed tells me what my friends like, who they’re friends with, where they’re going. Without meaning to, I am privy to arguments, or watch flirtations unfold. Twitter allows us to follow someone with notifications, so that we are instantly informed when that person says anything at all.

I am always invisible on Skype. I am virtually never signed into Facebook chat. I am an infrequent visitor to Google chat. And not because I am a curmudgeonly unsocial grouch, but because I am attempting to maintain a modicum of control over who knows where I am, when. I’m trying to keep my “personal space” – and in cyberspace, I’m fighting a losing battle.

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