Open Borders

As Americans living in Slovakia, my pregnant wife and I had to get used to a different set of personal boundaries: during our first month in town, the local police paid us a visit to inspect our apartment; at the clinic, our doctors would conduct obstetric examinations in an open space where other expectant mothers and health personnel would be moving about; driving on the roads, we would occasionally be flagged over by police checkpoints, just for a routine check-up to see that our documents were all in order; after my visa period expired, my employer was contacted by the police to have them explain why we were still in town . . . It puts a particular slant on what it means to be connected.

As we have seen in our survey of the exit protocol for getting out of Facebook, the site design wishes to keep us forever connected.  Removing an account is a multi-step process, organized as an extended guilt trip, implemented only after extended time delay.

In some respects this FB desire for us to remain connected is reminiscent of  the “open” relationship between people in Slovakia and the service and law enforcement sectors.

FB’s commitment to openness can be viewed in the evolution of sharing policies, which have grown more and more permissive, as FB becomes increasingly ubiquitous. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of FB whose FB profile indicates his commitment to “breaking things,” “revolution,” and “openness,” has said that he is “building a web where the default is social” (F8 Conference, 4/21/2010).  The website openbook provides a visualizationshowing how “social” translates into who you share your information about yourself with under FB’s default setting, and how the circle of sharing has grown since the inception of FB.

A countervailing force is a desire for personal sanctuary, which gets played out in the FB world in the demand for privacy.  FB users appreciate the functionality that FB affords, yet they wish to retain their private space as well.  This dialectic between sharing and discretion has resulted in the proliferation of privacy settings (Facebook Privacy: A Bewildering Tangle of Options), increasing user control over his privacy, while making it ever more challenging to exactly calibrate an enhanced level of discretion. Where users don’t think of everything, site design guarantees that they will be overexposed.  “Thinking of everything” becomes increasingly complex; therefore, the ranks of the overexposed grow proportionately. This predicament suggests itself as the existential, person-by-person reality of FB’s  “revolution” in process, breaking down barriers and ushering in ever advancing personal exposure as a social norm.

Two principles of Discourse are illustrated: it is never neutral (there is always an agenda); it is never stable (relationships are always changed with each encounter).