About social networks

It’s been a long time since I have this inherent annoyance and restraints against social networking. The mere though of thousands or millions of people checking around on other peoples’ lives on the internet makes me nervous. Nevertheless, I am also part of this world. Although I did not want to, originally, moving countries and having people that I am only able to contact via Facebook kind of made me do it. More or less the same reason why my grandma now can call me on Skype. I realized this some time ago, and sent her an actual written letter. After all, why is she the one having to adapt to my means of communication when I can very well use hers? Turned out to be a very nice experience, writing a letter and all, and I will do it more often.

But back to the Facebook thing… After some thinking, I guess I can finally point out some reasons why I dislike so much this kind of interaction. And maybe this will shed a light on how I should use this in a way that makes me happy, and not angry.

The first thing is what I read on some news today (what actually made me finally write this… I’ve been meaning to do it for a while): “Endless sharing and clicks on “like” are, after all, far easier than taking the time to work out what we actually feel.” (http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20130104-pay-attention/1). I must be honest that the few times I clicked on “like” was because I did not want everybody to see my comment on the subject, although the person that posted was expecting a reaction from me. It’s ugly and I am embarrassed, but I would really rather that things directed to me are sent to me only, and not posted on some wall for everyone else, expecting a public reaction from me. Anyway, I agree with the guy that said this… liking and sharing is much easier than figuring out how you really feel about something, but it’s very shallow and lazy.

Another thing that annoys me is the amount of unwanted information you get from people. So somebody got married… graduated… had babies. Facebook tells you this. What are you going to do? “Like”?? It was not even the person that told you this. I never know if people really expect some reaction from a mere Facebook status change (“What do you mean you didn’t know?? It was on my Facebook!!”) or if they never stopped to think on what’s being published or not (“Ah… thanks… but how did you know it? Facebook? Ah… yes…”). Unfortunately not all people have the patience to go through the endless privacy configurations and filter who gets to see what. My policy: if you want me to know something, tell me. I am rarely on Facebook, and even if I am, don’t expect me to go to your profile to find out if there’s something new.

Speaking of the privacy thing, I will not even begin to argue how dangerous this can be (just check http://pleaserobme.com/). We all know that (I hope!), but what I am most concerned recently is what people are sharing about other people, without their consent. You post a picture of you and your friends at some place, suddenly you reveal some information about all the people on the picture, ever thought of that? Maybe some of the people in the picture don’t even know this, or maybe they don’t like to publish photos online. But out of politeness, they won’t tell you this, and just avoid taking pictures with you the next time. There’s an option to remove the tag from the picture, nevertheless, all the people that know you and see the picture, know it’s you. I think it’s just rude, and I have warned my mother about it (the only person I was brave enough to do so). If you want to put pictures online, please ask first the people on the picture. It’s polite to take into account others’ opinions. In fact, not only pictures, but any personal information. If it’s not yours, it’s not yours to share.

I guess the last thing (which usually makes me more sad than angry, and then angry for going into Facebook and becoming sad) is what other peoples’ lives look like. I know everybody has problems, I know life is not perfect, but when you only see the people online, it seems everybody is so so happy! They have wonderful pictures of vacations, outing with friends, the staff smiling at work, important events happening… I could go into the race, and post pictures of happiness of my own, but I don’t want to. We shouldn’t need to have to show a happy life to actually be happy. And this accounts for showing everywhere, on and off-line.

After figuring out all this, the only thing I could do was to go over the long long privacy settings on Facebook to block most of the information (and delete, when possible). I am working on removing the picture, but I am afraid this would cause some comments I don’t want to deal with (such as “Why did you remove the picture? It was great!”). For some time I thought of using it only for professional purposes, but this would annoy 99% of the people there. Using it as my blog is certainly not and option… I don’t want to broadcast these posts. What to do then? Oh well… back to work.

PS: The sentence of the day (I saw it twice already) seems to be “your attention has a limited capacity”, so use it wisely!

PS2: A more professional view on the subject: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20120703-tackling-technology-overload

About life

So, yesterday night I went to one of the famous Bier Gartens here in Munich. It is a nice place, at Wiener Platz, where they have lots of tables in an open space and several restaurants and bars around where we can get our food and beer. It’s been a long time since I didn’t do this, and it was very nice. Just sitting around, having some beer (or watching people have it because I did not dare to buy 1 liter for myself), eating appetizers an talking about life.

It was particularly different and interesting because of the people. Each one had a different story and opinion. Most of them are married or getting married soon and all are academics. What got me thinking was this guy that was saying how he kind of regretted getting married and having kids so late. He had his first child when he was 31, which did not sound so bad for me, but he was saying that he kept postponing it since he was always traveling a lot and moving to different cities because of his research. Now, for example, he still lives in another city than his family (wife and kids). He sadly said that he’ll probably not live to see his grandchildren getting married, and when his children do, he’ll probably not be able to dance in their marriage because of his age. That got me thinking. I found that most people from academia always liked studying, and keep doing this even after graduation, and, if they make any plans, is about the next post-graduation, or whether to get a job or not. And most people, like myself, never had plans for a personal life, like getting married or having kids. We usually think that this comes naturally, but it seems that it is naturally coming later and later. I have colleagues that are on their 30’s and starting the PhD now. Of course one could say that you should not stop your life because of studying and that it’s possible to have it all (I know people that do), but the thing is that a student does not get enough money for a proper marriage, honeymoon and all (I don’t know why people still think that this is strictly necessary… it’s surely nice, but anyway). Imagine having kids… kids are expensive and take time, and all PhD students are worried enough about all the research, reading, publishing, and since they never thought about family, they probably won’t start to at this point.

My point is, for several reasons, people tend to start a family later in life. And this guy was complaining and I was thinking how I sometimes look at my cousins that are married and have kids and wonder what my life would be like if I just wanted those simple things, and didn’t studied or worked so hard. Sometimes I even wish that I wanted, but the feeling goes away fast. Maybe they also look at me and wonder how’s my life like… who knows.

The conclusion I reached this morning was that times are changing, but they have always been changing. We cannot escape and think that things will be in a certain way forever. That everyone will get married, and that you will have a big family (I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they are not big anymore), and that the family can get together in your grandparent’s house (most of my grandparents don’t even live in a house big enough for so many people), and that you’ll see your children having kids and possibly your great-grandchildren… Once upon a time, the families lived close, in the same city or the same block, and this also is no longer the case. So, as I said, things change. All I can expect is to be happy with the time and life I have, whenever and whatever happens, without regrets.

This is a picture of the Englischer Garten, the place I need to cross to get to the university. The streams there have the clearest water I have ever seen. I think they clean it when there’s no one looking…