Nelson’s Column

I currently have two mobile phone numbers, two email addresses, MySpace and Facebook profiles (I’m too old for Bebo), A BlogSpot Blog, a YouTube home page full of videos of myself, Flickr photo page and shopping accounts with Amazon and eBay. And, of course, my Flybe and Northlink memberships.

Last week I got so freaked out by the sheer size of my over exposure that I did that latest of self-sacrifices: I decided to commit cybercide.

Simply using the web you could see my favourite movies, books and television, my holiday snaps, wedding photos, CV, what I’ve been buying for the last two years, what websites I’ve visited, little stories about “what I’ve been up to lately” and more besides. Even though I have successfully managed to avoid Twitter – the communications network that allows you to tell people what you’re currently having for dinner – I have still voluntarily opened myself up to any manner of manipulation.

And this is true of all of us. We have nearly all in the past five years or so succumbed to these social networking and shopping sites, voluntarily handing over information on every single aspect of our life, including things like bank details. Not that we are all international spies or anything like that and need to protect our identity lest we bring down the nation. But let’s just take Amazon. You buy one book, one movie and one CD. Before you know it you are being teased and seduced by juicy titbits based on your choices until you’ve spent an entire weeks wages on stuff that you will eventually eBay to some other sap anyway. That kind of manipulation.

And it’s easy enough to do. Let’s say you get chatting to someone in a pub.  As soon as you’ve got their name it’s off to the toilets with your iPhone for a bit of googling, the search engine type that is, and within 10 minutes you could be over there freaking them out with all sorts of knowledge.

And what if the council had decided to build a bypass (or a wind turbine access road) through your living room in a public-private partnership cloak and dagger deal? You’d complain and campaign and be a general pain in the neck exercising your democratic right to protest and question authority as fought for by our forefathers. All they would have to do is look at the information provided by you on your MySpace, Ebay, Amazon, Google Desktop, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube profiles, then make up their very own profile of your habits, tastes, sensibilities, politics, passions, religious views and sexual orientation preparing a full scale psychological warfare sting, manipulating and steering you away from your cause in an Orwellian nightmare. People say “why should I be against ID cards when I have nothing to hide?” Why? Because it’s not a case of the government not trusting you. It’s a case of you not trusting the government.

And It’s not just “The Man” you have to worry about either. It’s yourself. In reading most blogs and Facebook updates you’ll see that people do not tend to have that much self-control. One good friend of mine writes so many diatribes about his employers that I’m surprised he can turn up on Mondays.

The most puzzling realization, though, was that I found I had so many online “friends” that I hardly knew if I knew them at all. Not only that but I was increasingly communicating online with real life friends that I see on a regular basis in the real world. It’s only a tiny island after all. I’ve even been Facebook “PM’d” by my neighbour from two doors away. My virtual person is becoming more prolific and popular that my flesh and blood one.

So that’s it. I’m done. MySpace (or is it “My MySpace?”) is down to professional, actorish photos and showreels. My blog ceased. I cut down my Facebook news feed by cutting out all the people I’ve never actually met and all the people who live within walking distance of my house. (Who are, of course, all still welcome at my door anytime.)

I’ll buy my books from a book shop and my records from a record shop. It’s the electronic equivalent of Tom and Barbara from The Good Life. However, with so many people now living within online communities, passing information on social events, available employment, etc, solely through the web, am I in danger of becoming “The Forgotten Man”? Maybe. But rather that, though, than “The Man Everyone Is Totally Sick Of.” Now if you’ll excuse me, I haven’t checked Facebook for 15 minutes and I’m getting withdrawal symptoms.

Sandy Nelson


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.