Is facebook the new social control ?

Today I heard a funny thing that made me think of facebook and twitter and how it may become something that I thought had disappeared: a way of social control, of following and checking up on you.

We were in the Delaize. The cashier woman, age somewhere in her mid-thirties, while scanning our stuff, was talking to another person and was telling this person about somebody she knew; this person she knew had put his facebook status as ‘away to x the whole day’ but she had seen him and somebody else walking around, so they were both lying !

What struck me first was the casual way that Facebook was mentioned, as if it was an everyday tool to use. Funny how just a few years ago nobody in the Delhaize would have understood the word Facebook nor even what it meant. We’ve come far !

It also made me think of my days of youth, when living in a small village everyone knew everything about everyone. My mother could come home from shopping and for the next hour or so go into a spiel about what this person did to that person, who said what against someone else, all the blow-by-blow discussions and nasty detail. Names were given in a short/long version, like ‘marieke-van-achter-de-winkel’, ‘jef-with-the-hat’ that only insiders could understand.

When I grew up, I learned that this only happened in small communities, while in the big city you just sink into the anonymous mass.

However, social control may be making a comeback using new tools: while I use facebook to check on what my friends are doing (or not doing) it’s very easy to cross the line into the rabid following of everything your friends are doing online. More and more people are coming online, including your next-door neighbour.

This means that more and more people will know what you are doing, both those living close to you and those following you online. And I think a cross-pollination is occurring between the online world and offline world. If you tell a small white lie to a friend online that you are for example sick while you are not, chances are your neighbor or local friend who sees you working in the garden can point out the omission, while online, thus informing *everybody* what you were up to.

Soon the differences between online and offline will become vague, and the only line will be between those you know and those you don’t know.

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