This post is a little out of left field. It has nothing to do with photography or art though at a stretch it may have something to do with human nature so it may still has a place in this blog I suppose.
I get photography, I get art but I admit to often being at a loss when exploring human nature, including my own.
In this instance however I find my nature at odds with those of many friends and acquaintances, especially those of my generation. This topic has been in my thoughts for a long time but I continue to be baffled and perhaps writing about it will help sort something out.
The Internet, like all things in life, has its pros and its cons. What is more, the Internet is made up of many parts with each part having its pros and its cons. As I see it, the Internet’s major pro is that it is a repository of all knowledge (granted, this could be argued as a con too), available to most people, at least in the Western world. Another pro as I see it, is that the Internet is a connector of people and that is the part I want to explore because that too has its pros and cons. Initially we had email to connect people and forums too. Now we have many other means of connecting. MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest to name just a few. Each of these applications have their pros and cons but there is one word that keeps popping up to describe some of these and that word is “creepy”. And I just don’t get that. This word is mostly applied to Google and Facebook though I’ve heard it used with Instagram and I suspect it won’t be long before I hear it about Twitter when they start changing their business model to monetize the site.
Just to be sure, I understand creepy as being a sensation of repulsion or unease or fear. Maybe even horror at one extreme. If there’s another definition, one that is perhaps more contemporary and less extreme, than I am happy to hear it.
Sites like Facebook have a lot things going against them. Things like aesthetics and ease of use come to mind, but creepiness? A guy in a trench-coat loitering outside a pre-school is creepy, a guy spying on his neighbours with binoculars is creepy, unexpectedly walking into a big spider-web can feel creepy, but a computer program? Why do people get creeped-out by social sites? Am I missing something? It can’t be the targeted advertising because surely everyone knows that is nothing more than an algorithm, right? One friend told me he didn’t like the idea that the people who run the web site might be reading his updates. Really?!
I remember the days when every time a significant event occurred in my life I would make dozens of copies of photos, write dozens of letters and post them to dozens of people across the world. Some people might miss getting mail, real mail, but I certainly do not miss writing letters to each and every family member and friend around the world every time someone over here had a birthday or wedding or graduation. A site like Facebook lets me do it in one place and I’m happy to put up with an ugly and unfriendly interface for the convenience. Plus, the immediacy of getting responses, sharing thoughts and staying in contact with people thousands of miles away is an absolute joy and for that I am happy to put up with ugly advertisements; after all, server farms don’t come cheap, nor the real-estate on which they reside.
I know a lot of people who don’t use Facebook or any social sites (in my age group that is the norm). On the occasions that I ask why, my expectation as to what the response might be lies along the lines of “I don’t need it” or “I don’t understand it” or “I don’t care about keeping in touch with anyone” or “I’ve got nothing to say and most people bore me” or even “I would get addicted and I can’t afford the time”. Any of these reasons would make sense to me but instead I always get “It’s not safe”, “I don’t want people knowing what I do”, “I’ve heard people get robbed blind” and of course, the most common one, “It’s creepy”.
Connecting people on the scale that the Internet has done isn’t all good and dandy. There are some serious cons to balance out the pros. I don’t deny that for a minute. Nor do I deny that opinions are easily formed and strongly defended when it comes to such charged topics as social media but I can’t help wonder if such opinions only end up being bars in the prisons of the mind.
I am happy to be called naïve or even stupid for not seeing the creepiness in some of these services as long as it is explained to me because I would dearly like to understand what, exactly, is actually creepy.