The Creepiness That Is Forced Upon You

Posted on February 10, 2012 by

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By Matthew Cunsolo

I’ve noticed a recent phenomenon that I believe is going largely unmentioned. This is because it is, of its own nature, unmentionable. That phenomenon is this – because of social networking sites like FaceBook, people are being forced to pretend they know less than they do. Let me explain how this is.

You have a FaceBook. You have a group of friends and these friends post pictures when they go out and do whatever it is they do and you stumble upon these pictures, whether from your newsfeed or by going to their profiles or what have you. These friends of yours have some other friend, a friend of theirs that you have never met. Now, since your friends know this person, you may have seen them in various pictures, seen them comment on various things. You may even know who they are dating, some of their interests and other random tidbits of information.

One night, you are introduced to this person at a party. Let’s call her Stacy Sierra. (Why is it that these people always have some incredibly catchy name?) You look her in the eye, and as you shake her hand and she tells you her name, what do you do? You lie. You pretend that you’ve never heard of her. Why do you do this? Because it would be awkward. It would be creepy of you to admit the truth of what you really know, information that you have come across by no real creepiness of your own. All that stuff was out there and you did not have to search for it. It was presented to you. Somehow, by means of non-creepiness you have acquired creepiness. How did this happen? The creepiness was forced upon you.

I asked some students at Worcester State University to answer a number of questions for me. The first question was about the situation just described. I asked them, has this happened to you, and how did you handle it? Out of the fifteen people I asked, all but two said that this has happened to them. Now, I had thought there were only two options here: complete denial of having heard of Stacy Sierra (and do not get me wrong this has nothing to do with gender, Stacy Sierra may as well be Ricky Lloyd), or total acknowledgement of what you know about her. But of course, life does not always deal in extremes. About half of those who said this has happened to them said that they would go the route of complete denial.

“God, no that’s just weird,” Gabi, WSU Junior. While others prefer the tactful route of selective disclosure. A carefully crafted maneuver which ultimately leads to the information that they already know about Stacy coming to the surface, without their having to admit it.  Ex. “Hey do you know John Greensboro?” (I already know you know John Greensboro. I know you went to Blackstone Tap with him and wore a skimpy red dress).

I presented them with another fairly common situation. Someone you know posts a status or a photo or some bit of virtual information about what they did last night. Then you see this person in real life and they begin to tell you a story of which you already know in its entirety. Do you let them finish? Do you say, “Yeah, no, I know I saw that online, I read about your life.” (Why is it that we use no to emphasize yes, and yes to emphasize no? Ex. “Yeah, no. Forget it buddy. “No, YES. We need to do that.” Think about it. And then stop thinking about it because only by not thinking about it are you able to let this contradiction pass through your brain and somehow make sense).  Do you let them finish, or do you admit that you know the story.

 The predominate answer that I got from our lovely collegiate populous is  “It depends.” This makes sense. A close friend of yours could handle the fact that you saw this on FaceBook. Someone further down the line of acquaintances, someone, say, that you sit next to in class and just met a couple weeks ago. Yeah, no, you cannot tell them. Even those who said they might admit that they know this story their friend is telling them, would carefully guard themselves by saying “I think I heard about that.” Jessica, WSU Sophmore. Or something comparable that leaves them safely uncreepy. So even if you do acknowledge what you know, you are still holding back, you are not owning up to the extent of what FaceBook has shoved in your face because you simply cannot and you probably should not.

 Now I hate when people raise concerns with no proposed solution and I hate to say it but I might be doing just that. What needs to change here? Anything? The answer from your peers at WSU was comically contradictory. First I asked, do you think that people need to become more open and accepting of the fact that this information is out there? Can you imagine a world where you could walk up to Stacy Sierra and say, “Nice to actually meet you, I actually know that you have ten mutual friends of mine (lists them) and you enjoy a few of the same movies that I enjoy. You recently broke up with Brian Dudebro and that’s probably why you’re so drunk right now.”  No. No one could agree that full disclosure of our known information should be acceptable. So naturally, if there is something creepy here it’s FaceBook’s fault right? The thing is, when I asked WSU students, “Well, then do you think this information should be removed, so you are not forced into knowing things you can’t admit you know?” “No, no I love it.” Was the response from Julia, WSU Junior. “We can talk about this stuff with our other friends but we just can’t admit that we know it to the person’s face.”

 Well folks, I don’t think anything is going to change here, and with more and more of our personal information up for grabs on the web, the things people can find out about you without even trying (not to mention what they could find if they really did try) is startling. The fact that people do not interact virtually the same way that they do in reality is one thing, but the refusal to merge these two realities is leading us into even more complicated frameworks of identity. Social networking is not a societal evil and its side effects are necessary to endure. Just ask yourself this, is it possible to share a comfortable silence with someone virtually?  Real life is where the good stuff is at. 

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