A few days ago, on this blog, I excerpted a couple of passages from Richard Klein‘s Cigarettes are Sublime, and wrote of a little episode in my life centered on smoking cigarettes as a way to kill time. Once I had written the post and published it here, as is usual, I posted links to it on my Twitter feed and my Facebook page. As I did so, I wondered if I should tag the friend of mine who had gifted me the book almost twenty years ago–he is on Facebook too, just like me. My tagging of him would be a kind of public acknowledgment of his gift, maybe even a late thank-you to add to the one I sent his way when he first gave me my birthday gift. Perhaps I could tag him in the comments space, writing something like:
Hey D___: remember you bought me this book for my birthday in 1995? Well, I’ve read it – nineteen years later!
I didn’t do so but I’m still tempted to–somehow it seemed like the ‘reasonable’ thing to do on Facebook. For such tagging, such calling-out, is eminently the norm on Facebook. If you post something on your Timeline, and if any of your friends is somehow potentially interested in–or, as in my case–connected somehow–to the subject of your post, well, then, you tag them, you alert them–you ‘share’, you ‘link’, you ‘network.’ Of course, when you do so, you do so publicly.
In an alternative universe, I might have written my blog post, and then separately emailed my friend to let him know that I had finally reached up into my bookshelf, read his witty inscription, and read the birthday gift he had so generously purchased for me (on a graduate student’s salary, no less). That epistolary interaction might have turned into a longer one if he had replied, perhaps with a reminiscence or two about that period of genteel semi-poverty, perhaps with a rueful acknowledgment of how long cigarettes had been a presence in our lives. If I had done my tagging on Facebook, we might have had the same interaction but in public, not in private. Its content, which we might have imagined more appropriate for email, would have been visible to all our ‘friends.’ Or perhaps we might not have had the same conversation; perhaps we would have found an unhappy middle-ground where, subconsciously aware of our ‘audience’ we would have made our exchanges less revealing, less forthcoming. And yet still remained in the public eye, not moving our correspondence to email.
The structure and features of Facebook are–as I’ve noted here previously–set up to shift a great deal of communication, previously imagined to be private, to public spaces, available for inspection by your ‘friends’, all in the name of sharing. Its impact on privacy is much talked about; one of the dimensions of that impact is how we may subscribe to its sharing model while retaining some of our intuitions about what we consider shareworthy, thus impoverishing our interactions with our ‘friends.’