Over my past four years at Cornell, the Internet has changed in wildly wonderful and woefully alarming ways.
For one thing, Facebook’s popularity seemingly exploded my freshman year of college. In April of 2006, at the end of my high school career, I took the plunge and signed up for a Facebook, on my sister’s invitation — she being four years my senior, and a senior at Cornell (like that wordplay?). It seemed like everyone worth mentioning had a Facebook, and I felt that I was one of the “chosen few.” (Note: As you may know, Facebook used to be an invite-only endeavor, and college kids [like Mark Zuckerberg at the time] held the keys to this VIP room of online networking).
The changes to, and according weirdnesses of, Facebook were subtle at first: You no longer needed an invite to join the site by the time I got to Cornell, circa O-week, 2006. (God, I was plastered that whole time!). The non-invite version of Facebook got pretty funny, pretty fast: People of all stripes joined ... including my friends’ parents. Case in point: My best-friend-from-home’s dad got a Facebook and repeatedly friended her — insisting that he really did just want to be “friends.” Weird.
This phenomenon, entertaining at first, began to tell the story of an ever-growing global networking tool that reached far beyond any college campus’ reach.
A hot day in September, when I was still making new friends every day (Oh, life! How full of possibilities you once were!), I remember one of my roommates announced the arrival of the now commonplace “Newsfeed.” I was aghast: Now everyone could know what I was clicking on at any moment! That dude I was ogling at RPCC’s Mongo Bar would know that I was cyber-stalking him! People could see how many times a day I actually changed my profile picture! I wondered then — presciently, I suppose — if there would be an end to Facebook’s invasive insanity.
Evidently not, as Facebook has gotten into tussles ad infinitum regarding privacy laws and cyber-accessibility. In a recent Gizmodo article called “Facebook Profile Changes Get Scary,” Adam Frucci posits the future of Facebook wherein the year 2012 Facebook creates a “Life Recorder”: “a small camera apparatus that’s worn on your head, automatically tagging the friends you interact with via facial recognition and posting to your wall. Information such as where you shop and what you buy is put into a database (for marketers).” The article is a hilarious yet soul-shakingly creepy growth model for Facebook’s privacy encroachments, as its network of users grows.
In fact, the exponential model Frucci posits for Facebook almost mimics the growth of another nifty site: YouTube. A veritable Internet institution, YouTube now saves many social interactions from that boring lull that our parents used to call “conversation.” This past Saturday night, when a group of friends and I were huddled around a MacBook Pro’s screen, watching a dog bark, “I love you,” one of my friends asked, “What did people do before YouTube?” And frankly, I drew a blank.
But can you believe that it was just five years ago that YouTube was birthed down the Information Highway? Yes, April 23, 2005 marks the anniversary of the first video posted on YouTube. Its subject? Jawed Karim, one of the site’s founders, catalogues his experience at the zoo. Sheesh — not viral video material, Mr. Karim! If only he had known then what a beast the Internet would become, maybe he would have had the mind to post something a little more interesting than a video of Elephant trunks.
Somewhere in here, there’s a rhetorical bridge between the massive popularity of YouTube and my next point, but you’ll have to seek that out yourselves. I think I meant the transition to be something about how the Internet today kind of functions like a perpetual drunk-fest: people show their goodies to other people, sans shame and with much vigor.
With no further ado, enter last year’s weirdest chat creation: Chatroulette. Lord, it’s like Spring Break 2k10 every day on that thing! Users are either waggling their ding-dongs for free looks or gettin’ hated on by people who aren’t even that good looking.
So you understand why imagining the future of the Internet is an amazingly curious proposition. New York Times writer Brad Stone published an article called “For Web’s New Wave, Sharing is the Point” this past Thursday discussing the growth of such sites like Blippy, Foursquare and Skimble. These sites contain algorithmic engines that allow users to input minutiae about what they do (Skimble), where they are (Foursquare) and what they buy (Blippy). Why are people so willing to give up such private information about themselves? Says one man, “I simply have nothing to hide.”
Stone details the extent to which one’s identity (and privacy) is compromised when users confess all details — including credit card purchases (!!!) — on these sites, for their friends to peruse and pick apart. (Yo, on a dorky note: Maybe Michel Foucault was onto something with his Confessional Discourse idea in the History of Sexuality, Vol. 1.)
Though I too am excited to see the future of our rapidly expanding Internet, I have one caveat. If I may bestow a bit of advice, it is to troll the Internet like you’re on Spring Break (this metaphor has got legs): Have fun, but keep yourself safe out there. It might seem harmless enough to have a slumber party with a dude you think is named Carlos, but lo, you wake up in the morning not feeling like P. Diddy and, moreover, not owning your money, IDs, wallet or your dignity. And later, you find out that your nighttime lover is actually named Jake and he is not from an exotic, tropical homeland, but rather, Iowa.*
As a final, unrelated note (and yes, this is final — you’re reading my last article, folks), a big thank you to J. Block and Sammy P. for getting me interested in, and keeping me at, the Sun for all of these years. You both are prettay, prettay, prettay special. And thanks, of course, to all of you fools who suffered through reading this mess twice a month.
*This hypothetical situation is not based on real events, ya freaks.