Worlds in Collision

November 26, 2007
Posted by Jay Livingston

There’s been a lot written about how the Internet has shifted the boundary of private and public. People are willing to put more of their lives out there in cyberspace– most notably on networking sites like MySpace and Facebook – assuming, for some reason, that only their friends will have the ability or interest to stop and look.

But cyberlore teems with cautionary tales of the wrong people getting the wrong information. A prospective employer sees what a job candidate has put on his MySpace page and finds it much different from the picture the candidate presented in his resumé and interview. It’s the problem Goffman called “audience segregation.” We don’t present quite the same self to each group that we interact with – employers and drinking buddies, for example – and we do our best to make sure that the audiences for these different performances don’t overlap. Jeremy Freese closed down his blog because of this problem. (I can’t remember the specifics.)

It had all been academic for me till one night last week. My son was looking at Facebook, and looking over his shoulder I noticed that one of his “friends ” was a kid I’d known since they were in kindergarten together. I wanted to see a larger version of the postage-stamp size picture. No dice, Dad. He logged out.

So remembering that I had a Facebook account (though I never use it), I logged in on my laptop, and started looking through friends on my son’s page. My wife, too, was curious about these kids. My son, of course, was mortified. I couldn’t get to his actual page with his “wall” and other information. But I could scroll through the pages of his Facebook friends.
We both felt uncomfortable. He had always known that anyone in the world could view that list of friends, but he hadn’t really considered this possibility of his parents seeing it.

“This is not good,” he said. “Worlds are colliding.”


Anonymous said...

My mom keeps tabs on my Facebook and she reads my blog. I like that she does this for two reasons:

1. It keeps me in check, for if I wouldn't want my mom reading it, it's likely that it is something that doesn't need to be public information.

2. She gets to satisfy her craving to know about me, which is good because I'm not good at sharing.

I try to maintain some audience segregation by having parts of my facebook profile only be visible to friends, and also by not actively broadcasting my true identity on the blog. Plus, I don't delve too deeply into my personal life there.

I always thought of these online personas as our front stages, so I appreciate your Goffman reference.

jeremy said...

I didn't hide my archives. Although, an overarching reason for taking down my blog is that it stopped seeming like as much fun. But now, it's back to being fun again! (Very plausibly to the detriment of the rest of my career...)

Phil said...

Lol Jeremy. I imagine my blog may go through a few deft edits before I start applying for "proper" jobs at the end of my PhD ...