Facebook, privacy, utility

I have loved being off Facebook for a number of reasons.  So much gets amplified to the point of distortion there.  I have to manage my private/public boundaries carefully as a priest which means I was always on tenterhooks about having things misconstrued. Facebook too easily makes me reactive,  too easily offends me. There has been great gift getting to avoid all that noise.

Recently, I listened to an interview with a former member of the FCC who described Facebook as a ‘social utility’—a new kind of utility, in many ways like water and electricity. He pointed out that utility companies are viewed as important enough to the life and function of individuals and communities that they are quite regulated in order to make them available to the most people with the greatest ease possible. Utility companies are not known for being bright stars of capitalism with huge growth and profit potential, and instead, as solid performers of some pretty vital functions of communal life.  Part of the dilemma related to privacy on Facebook derives from the fact that the business model for Facebook is as opposite of a utility model as is possible.  Too much of their model depends on transgressing privacy needs for the sake of stellar profits.

When I first heard Facebook described as a utility, it helped me understand the issue with the business model and why I had such a visceral reaction against the cavalier way in which my privacy was used for financial gain.  Now, having lived without Facebook for over a month, I understand it is a utility in a deeper sense.  It is a really important means of communication and connection with the community I serve, the people who are far away, who are busy and who matter to me, people who I lose without Facebook

Admittedly with considerable reservations, with a new determination to set up the tightest privacy constraints possible, with the awareness that there are no free lunches, I am headed back to that space.  Along with the anger and trepidation I feel about this particular tradeoff, I am also aware that connection matters to me, enough to say, I’m going back on Facebook and there will be folks I’ll be glad to catch up with because I have missed them all these weeks.

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