Category Archives: Social Media

Remember When the Internet Was Anonymous?

Today marks four years since I started this blog. Seems like just yesterday. Thank you all who have read this blog and taken the time to comment. I know that I don’t post as often as I used to, but I’ve got a few big projects I’ve been working, and I’m going to share one of them with you very shortly. In the meantime, enjoy this post.

The Director was sitting in his office, enjoying a pumpkin spice latte. He did not like pumpkin flavor, but it was the law of the land that pumpkin flavor must be consumed in the fall.

There was a knock at the door and an intern entered.

“Sir, I’m sorry to bother you. But do you remember when we demanded that all social media websites turn over all of the personal information and preferences of their users? Well now they say they are not producing the information.”

“They’re not? I was afraid of this. All right, time for Plan B.”

“Sir, you don’t mean…”

“Oh, yes, I do. House calls.”

The media at first was skeptical of the government’s new program, whereby they sent government agents to canvass the neighbors, door to door, asking the inhabitants for their personal information. Many pundits thought it an intrusion on people’s privacy, while others thought it a patriotic duty and a chance to expose themselves to some new germs.

Analysts on both sides, however, agreed that people would not want to reveal their personal information to an agent of the government who showed up at their doorstop uninvited and in most cases without even a bottle of wine or piece of fancy cheese wrapped up in nice paper.

So they were really surprised by the responses. People provided their names and ages, of course, and their email addresses and phone numbers, and where they like to shop, and what they think about the things that other people’s kids do, versus the things that their own kids do. They asked about music tastes and food tastes and whether they were more likely to choose a table or a booth when offered both at a diner.

The program was so successful and the responses so thorough, that the government turned it into a reality tv show.

“You know, usually I go for the booth. If I’m offered both, I go for the booth.”

“So you’d classify yourself as booth in response to question 19a?”

“Well, now, sometimes I don’t feel like a booth. I gotta be honest, I like booths. But sometimes – I don’t know – I just feel like a table.”

“So would you classify yourself as a hybrid booth/table? There’s a choice for that.”

“Well, you know,” he says with his finger in his mouth, and looking up at the ceiling. “Now that I think about it a little more, I’m not sure if I ever chose a table over a booth when offered both. I think I was thinking of something that happened to my mother. Maybe I really am a booth guy after all.”

In fact, so effective was the government program that the social media websites started offering the government money for the personal data of the citizenry, in hopes of offering content that would attract more viewers. The official answer was no, but then some Congressmen and Senators got into a bit of hot water over selling of personal data to social media companies, and had to do penance by reciting the 80s pop hit single “Safety Dance” a cappella, including all of the instrumental sounds, before every session of Congress.

5 Comments

Filed under Government, Social Media, Technology

Remember When You Didn’t Have to Create a Profile Everywhere You Go?

There is a support group for people who sign up for too many online profiles.  The group meets once a week in the basement of an old church.  I went to last week’s meeting.

The group is led by a woman who at one point held profiles from 157 different websites.  “Each account had a unique password with at least one uppercase letter, one number, and one symbol,” she said to me as she introduced herself.  “This was a great source of pride to me.”  Then one day she couldn’t remember one of the passwords, and she had a nervous breakdown, and had to spend some time in an institution, where she was heavily medicated and had to re-learn how to say her own name without numbers or underscores.  She eventually became rehabilitated enough to go into a group home and now her responsibilities are leading the weekly meetings and refilling the reservoir on the Keurig coffee dispenser.

We sat in a circle and one of the attendees, a young man, began to speak.

“I had a Google account and a Facebook account and a Twitter account.  Then I joined LinkedIn, even though I didn’t have a job, and I had to borrow a coat and tie and pressed shirt from a friend for the profile photo, and because the t-shirt was mine you could still see the dinosaur design through the white shirt I borrowed.

“And then I joined Pinterest even though I had nothing to pin, and Goodreads even though I haven’t read a book in years.  Frankly, I had thought they stopped making books.

“Then there was a site that advertised free music, and a site that counted calories.”  He tapped his abdomen as he says this.  “I had to pick a username and password for all these accounts, and I always picked the same password:  RoseBud.   I thought I was being smart.  Turned out I wasn’t so smart, because it was the same username and password that I use for my online banking, and my identity was stolen.  Luckily, I didn’t have any money.  So I deleted all these accounts and now I’m much happier.  I even tried to buy a book, but I had deleted my Amazon account.”

Next a young woman spoke.  “I was on all those sites and apps that he was on, and more.  Except I used a different username and password for each one.  I was like a secret agent, walking the Earth with a stack of drivers’ licenses, trying to keep track of multiple identities.  I didn’t know who I was.  I created a document in Microsoft Word to keep track of all my usernames and passwords, but then I got worried that a hacker would be able to find the document.  So I encrypted the usernames and passwords with a code of my own making.  But I had to keep the code somewhere, and I was afraid to keep it on my computer.  So I wrote the code with a pen and paper and hid it inside of a box of Cracklin’ Oat Bran.”

Suddenly all the eyes were on me.  It was time to share my story.  But I didn’t know what to say.  I clearly didn’t have a problem.  I was in attendance only because I needed a topic for my blog, a blog that I access with a password that I change every week because I’m worried that someone will hack my account and start posting unfunny blog posts.  These people were the crazy ones.  Not me.  So I finished my cup of coffee and said that I wasn’t ready to talk about myself.  And they smiled, and thanked me, and said to keep coming.

14 Comments

Filed under Social Media, Technology

Remember When Life Wasn’t Consumed by Facebook?

Have you ever been working really hard on something, and have someone who sees you working say to you at the peak of your frenzy, “You know, no one ever said on their death-bed that they wished they spent more time at work”?  That may be true, but will anyone ever say on their death-bed, “I wish I had spent more time on Facebook”?

I have a ritual before I sign on to the Big FB.  I say to myself, “Now, we’re just going in for three things:  Wish happy birthday to absolutely anyone whose birthday prompt arises, re-poke any pokers, and RSVP to your brother-in-law’s ‘Second Annual Weekend at the Chicken Farm,’ and that is it.  Got it?  All right, we’re going in…”

But the moment I sign in my plan goes out the Microsoft Windows.  I am grabbed, wrapped up in Facebook’s tentacles, entranced by the songs of its sirens.  There’s no way to stop it.  One moment I’m checking out the birthday quadrant, and the next moment I’m looking at ultrasounds of someone’s deviated septum.  I retrace my steps, and I see how I went astray:

“All right, I signed in, and saw that it was so-and-so’s birthday, but there were those pictures of such-and-such’s new baby, and so I had to look at those pictures, and right underneath that update was an update from so-and-so about how he scored tickets to see Hall & Oates, and then, I saw that 43 of my other friends are fans of Hall & Oates, and one of their profiles I didn’t recognize, so I clicked on it and found that it was a complete stranger, but after looking at her other profile pictures I discovered that she is someone who I went to high school with, but has remarried, and so I check on her husband’s page, even though I don’t know him, and what do you know he likes a certain band, which is cool, even though I’ve never heard of that band.  So I clicked on the link of some dude who commented on a photo of the husband of that girl I went to high school with….”

The recursion is maddening.  I’m not sure if recursion is the correct word to use, but the point is I can’t retrace my steps.  I get disgusted with myself and sign off Facebook in a huff.  And then two minutes later I realized that I forgot to do on Facebook what I had initially meant to do.  So I sign back on, and the cycle of wasted time and self-disgust begins anew.

I’ve heard reports that the average Facebook user spends six hours a day on Facebook.  If you could put time in a bottle, how many bottles would that be, worldwide?  Does it make a difference if you use plastic bottles?  It certainly does if you’re an environmentalist.  But most non-environmentalists only care that the bottle not contain any BPA, whatever that is.

Six hours a day for every person on Facebook.  This cannot be as disheartening as it sounds.  Perhaps many Facebook users live in places where there is not that much to do, and going on Facebook actually increases the productivity of their regional economy.  But for most people, I imagine, Facebook is taking time that could be put to far more productive use, like helping in the community, spending time with family, or writing a blog.

Maybe companies will figure out a way to have employees do their work on Facebook.  I’ve alluded before to the possibility of suing people on Facebook.  Perhaps meetings and projects could be done with fan pages.  Products could be ordered and memos sent.  Even those little office birthday parties…well, we know Facebook has got the birthday thing down.

But what would those people who work on Facebook do to waste time?  They could not very well waste time on Facebook, because Facebook would be their job.  By definition, you can’t waste time at work by working.  The Facebook  workers would have to sign off, and turn off the monitor or shut the laptop, and pick up a stack of paper, and start filing.

And at 5 o’clock, the Facebook workers would put on their coats and hats, and go to a cafe, where they would meet real people, and talk face to face.  They would sip their coffee and nod, and smile, and make all of the tones and gestures that give spoken language its vitality.  And after they drain their cups, and catch-up on each others’ lives, these Facebook workers would sit back and reminisce about the days when people socialized over Facebook.

Do you stick to the grocery list when shopping at Facebook?  Or do you find yourself wandering the aisles as time ceases to exist?

28 Comments

Filed under Social Media

You’ve Been Sued Via Facebook

Photo: Bill Bradford

Courts in the United Kingdom and elsewhere are starting to allow lawsuits to be served over Facebook.  This has got to be the best idea since the Magna Carta.  Imagine signing in to Facebook, and right underneath an invitation to “Gwendolyn’s Fourth 29th Birthday!” is “Motion for Summary Judgment” from the parents of the kid who fell off your swing set two years ago.

Maybe they could just dispense with the need for serving a lawsuit and place a “sue” button on everyone’s profile page, right next to the “add as friend” button.  “So-and-so would like to sue you for $500,000.00 plus interest and attorneys’ fees.  Accept service?  Yes-No-Maybe.”

In most jurisdictions, serving the initiatory papers in a lawsuit have the most burdensome service requirements; any papers after that, known as interlocutory papers, may be served by regular mail, overnight delivery, or carrier pigeon.  So if a summons and complaint can be served through Facebook, it makes sense to allow other legal documents, like motions and demands for incriminating photographs, to be sent the same way.

But why stop at just documents?  The whole trial could take place over Facebook.  The judge would have his or her own “Fan Page,” with a photograph of the judge in the upper left-hand corner.  The lawyers would post evidence on the page’s wall, and any Facebook user who liked the page, anyone at all, could post comments, such as “ha ha there’s the smoking gun LOL.”  The witness’s testimony could be liked as well, and whichever witness gets the most likes would be deemed the most credible.

Turning Facebook into a legal forum would have the greatest utility in divorce proceedings.  Freeing oneself of the old ball ‘n’ chain would take nothing more than changing one’s relationship status from “married” to “single.”  Divorce papers would automatically be served, via Facebook messaging, upon the soon-to-be ex-spouse.  To the extent that the spouses in litigation have friends in common, those friends would be given an option to choose one spouse or the other, so that things are not awkward.

The Facebook staff would have to add a photo editing feature so that people could be untagged and erased from group photographs, and comments referencing the former spouse would be automatically edited to reflect the new-found independence.  So a comment underneath a photograph of the former spouses that once said

“You guys make such a cute couple!”

 would be changed along with the edited photo to

“Watch out, fellas!  Cougar on the prowl!”

What do you think about suing people through Facebook?  Is this a good use of social media?  What other public goods could Facebook provide?

13 Comments

Filed under Social Media

The Facebook Page Neurotic

Everyone wants to be liked by other people.  Even people who mow their lawns at 7 o’clock on a Saturday morning want to be liked by other people.  But measuring exactly how many people like you is difficult.  People might come to your party just for the peach cobbler.

Facebook pages, however, measure exactly how many people like you.  And being liked is completely different from being friends.  Lots of people are friends with people they don’t like.

I created a Facebook page to measure exactly how many people liked me, and because of this cryptic passage I read at location 195/542 in Are You There, Blog?  It’s Me, Writer:

 “All writers need a fan page.”

I created the page, uploaded a photo, wrote a self-serving blurb, and picked a gender.  I started inviting my friends to like me so that I could get the magic 25 needed for a username.  I wanted a username so that when I make business cards, the URL to my Facebook page is a neat “facebook.com/username” instead of the messy “facebook.com/firstname-lastname/longstringofnumbers.”

And I wanted my username to be exactly the same as my Twitter handle, MarkKaplowitz.  When you go through life with a first name that ends in the same letter and sound that begins your last name, you always fear that the two names run together in speech and that people won’t know where your first name ends and last name begins.

I think about the others who face this issue:  Julia Allison.  Michael Lewis.  Adam Morrison.  Jennifer Runyon, who played Gwendolyn Pierce on Charles in Charge.  Roald Dahl.  David Duchovny.  William McKinley.  Julius Caesar (using the Anglicized pronunciation).  These high achievers somehow got the world to know their first and last names.  When I saw that HTML was treating all names, big and small, on a lowercase basis, I worried that my concatenated k’s would be seen as one.  I needed a way to show differentiation.

And then I stumbled across Jody Hedlund’s Facebook page, with “AuthorJodyHedlund” as its username.  So it was possible!  I practiced typing my social media contact information on an imaginary business card:

http://twitter.com/MarkKaplowitz

http://facebook.com/MarkKaplowitz

Something was missing.  Then I saw it:

http://twitter.com/MarkKaplowitz

http://facebook.com/MarkKaplowitz

Killer!  The capital M, lowercase k, and capital K were dressed like the Blue Devils drum line!  Now no one would be confused.

My 25th like arrived last Friday afternoon.  With shaking hands I went to Facebook’s username portal, and was curtly informed that “MarkKaplowitz” was taken, just like that Steven Spielberg miniseries about aliens.

Who was this thief, this scoundrel, this cur, this knotty-pated fool who dared to take my username?

I scrolled down and found my answer.  It was me.  I had stolen my own name.

A few months ago, Facebook had offered me the opportunity to pick a username for my personal profile.  I had clicked on “confirm” because I like to click on things.  And Facebook’s help page said that usernames could not be transferred, period.

I searched for another way.  I found a post from August, 2010 that explained that one could release a username from a profile, and then immediately claim it for a page.  But the comments indicated that this strategy became risky in November.  I could not take risks.

One of the comments to that post proposed filing a Facebook copyright infringement claim against yourself.  I was skeptical but desperate.  I filled out Facebook’s form.  It asked for the name I was claiming and typed “markkaplowitz” and hit submit.  I wanted quick resolution, and a few seconds elapsed before I’d realized what I’d done.

I had forgotten to type “MarkKaplowitz” as I’d planned.  My business cards!  My perfectly aligned usernames!  My dispelling of confusion!

I received an email from Facebook confirming receipt of my request to transfer “markkaplowitz” from my profile to my page.  I drafted this reply:

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

I make reference to the username “markkaplowitz” that is currently the subject of a copyright dispute.  In the event I prevail against myself, I would prefer that the username for my page be entered as “MarkKaplowitz” with the first letters of my first and last name capitalized.  Makes it a little easier to read.  Sorry for being such a pain.  I love what you’ve done here.  I did not see The Social Network.

Sincerely,

Mark Kaplowitz

As the cursor stood poised over the send button, a voice inside my head said, “Don’t push it.”  But a louder voice said, “Follow your dreams.”  So I sent the email, went in the bathroom to throw up, and stepped outside for some fresh air.

I walked to a park, took a seat on a bench, and watched people.  A mother licked her hand to wipe her child’s face.  A guy in a backwards baseball cap scratched his chin while his girlfriend sent a text message.  A silver-haired man in a seersucker suit strolled by with a house cat on a leash.  The world showed nothing but indifference.

I went back to my computer.  No emails from Facebook, no change to the username.  I tried to blog, but the words weren’t coming.  I needed that username.

As the hours passed I became convinced that I would not get the transfer.  I would have to be “MarkKaplowitz2” or “TheRealMarkKaplowitz” or “ThatGuyWhoWritesThoseRememberWhenPostsOnSchlabadooDotCom.”  My business card would look messy.  My career would stagnate.  I would grow old on that park bench, telling myself over and over that I never should have sent that email.

And then I refreshed my page for the millionth time and saw that the username had been transferred.  It was “markkaplowitz” without any capitalization.  And I thought to myself, “You know, it looks kind of chic in all lowercase.  Maybe I should change my Twitter name to all lowercase.  For the business cards.”

Thanks Facebook!

Have you created a Facebook page?  Did you have any difficulty choosing a username?  What are your thoughts on capitalization in URLs?  What are your thoughts on crazy Facebook obsessions?

20 Comments

Filed under Social Media