The average Facebook subscriber averages more than 100 "friends." And Dan Schawbel, a personal branding expert, claims that online networks at the very least make us "microcelebrities." But fame also has a steep price that has led me to my own prediction: In the future everyone will wish for 15 minutes of privacy.
After five years on Facebook, I'm up to eight friends but already feeling overexposed, especially after what happened to the woman whose hijacked Facebook photo was used to deceive Notre Dame football player Manti Te'o. I now understand those native cultures that believe photographs steal souls. She had her privacy invaded, her identity stolen and her life violated just by posting a picture on Facebook.
Now, my Facebook photo couldn't be confused with anything but a post office wanted poster, but why do I have eight online friends when I can count my real friends on one hand, not counting my thumb and maybe that finger next to the little one? In fact, aside from professional networking, who needs hundreds of "friends," the majority of who are strangers?
I understand the healthy desire to connect and communicate with the world. The metaphor of the Web aptly captures the idea of creating connections, forming attachments, and bridging gulfs between people. However, a web paradoxically can also be a lure and a trap for those who enter it. Social media attracts scammers looking for suckers; sexual predators prowling for innocent prey; bullies barking at victims.
And the more sophisticated the technology, the more invasive the hackers. Recently, China tapped into the personal information of New York Times' employees who had been reporting about corruption and intrigue among top Chinese officials. Twitter says more than a quarter-million of its users' information has recently been compromised. Even the director of the CIA, Gen. David Petraeus, had his emails exposed with personally and professionally embarrassing repercussions.
Hackers now can gain access to people's computer monitors, enabling voyeurs to spy on you in the privacy of your home. I have more convoluted passwords than I ever cared to concoct or have a chance of remembering, yet they are feeble safeguards against sophisticated cyber thieves and ne'er-do-wells.
Online communication can be a poison as much as it can be a tonic: the more openly and freely we communicate, the more we expose ourselves to the sting of fraud, character assassination, identity theft and slander. For example, recently state Sen. Beth Bye of the 5th District was spotted using Facebook to connect with constituents during a legislative hearing on gun control. According to The Courant, she received "profanity-laced Twitter and email messages from all over the country." She said, "I think it's been purposely twisted and misrepresented."
So, what happens to real communication when we must watch every word we speak, every image we post, even which social media we use, for fear it may be manipulated, misrepresented or stolen? Most meaningful online communication becomes as illusory as Manti Te'o's girlfriend.
Maybe we have reached a tipping point at which the liabilities of social media exposure may outweigh the benefits. Rather than having our 15 minutes of online fame, perhaps it's better to be a ghost in the machine. Lowering our profiles, shrinking our online footprint and practicing anonymity may best secure our privacy, our identity, yes, our very souls.
Thomas Cangelosi lives in Avon.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun