How an Open Social Profile will Ruin Your REAL Social Life

Am I crazy or is setting your social networking profile visibility to “Everyone” an exceptionally bad idea?

With all media attention around privacy lately, why do some people continue to set their profiles to “Everyone” instead of “Only Friends”?

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’ve apparently not looked in your privacy settings of your favorite social networking site lately. Basically, setting your profile’s privacy settings to “Everyone” means that anyone can read your profile or send you a private message. Anyone… on the Entire Planet. Now, this doesn’t mean social networking sites aren’t useful to travellers (and stationary people alike) when used properly. And sure, the word “Everyone” includes lots of interesting or attractive people, but it also includes spammers, the mafia, sociopaths, etc. (provided that they have internet access obviously)

Think about it. Would you leave your mailing address on the street for anyone to discover? No? So why would you set your profile to “everyone”? Because when you do that, it’s the same as leaving the web address to your profile lying around on the web. In fact, it can be more dangerous since anyone from anywhere at any time can access it.

Why have a Hyper-Open Profile?

You’ve probably met people who do this though. You may even be one of them. Now since not everyone understands privacy settings, not everyone has a real stance on this issue since you need to actually understand it to have an opinion; but I’m sure you’re probably familiar with the justification for this. “I just want to be available and so people can reach me”, you’ve probably heard.

Well, here’s a News Flash for you: a social networking site isn’t exactly an efficient way to contact someone, especially while travelling. I mean, have you ever tried to get ahold of someone in an emergency through a social networking site? Why not?

Examples of effective ways to contact someone:

  • Telephone
  • Email (depending on the person)
  • Even postal mail!

Yes, even snail mail is more effective at getting someone’s attention than sending them yet another message in yet another inbox on yet another account on yet another website that they may not have even logged onto for weeks. (And yes, astute readers may point out that some people categorize Twitter as a social networking site, but a social networking site it is definitely not. Far more than that, Twitter is becoming a replacement for email itself and is a full-fledged communication medium now, just ask the New York Times. Twitter is the exception in so called “social networking” sites because it has transcended that and become a communication medium. Needless to say this is extremely rare.)

So ask yourself: are those who choose to put their profiles in a state of hyper-openness on social networking sites (which will continue to remain nameless) truly desiring to be more communicative and connected? Or could there be something more complex at play here?

This Hidden Desire

Is it possible that what these hyper-open people actually want is to increase the chances that they’ll make new, meaningful friendships that they otherwise wouldn’t have made?

I find it ironic that in an ever-more-connected-world people complain of loneliness more and more. And I wouldn’t be surprised if people who purposefully and deliberately leave their social networking profiles set to a hyper-open status harbor a secret desire for a renewed social life. (Although since such people don’t usually consciously realize what their deepest motivations may be, you’re probably not going to convince a hyper-open person that they’re motivations go a bit deeper than being “accessible”.)

Where does the time go?

The irony of this is that, despite the extra time and energy that it requires to manage a hyper-open online profile, it’s actually quite unlikely that a close friendship will form because of a social networking site. Too often these social networks come with the promise of a more meaningful experience on the web; but like many industries, they overpromise and underdeliver, swallowed-up in the ocean of their own hype, leaving their users to drown in a sea of unproductive wall-related tasks.

Being hyper-open with your profile on any one of these sites results in a much busier email inbox. And honestly, who has time to adequately maintain their existing friendships and connections if they’re so focused on managing all the new connections coming in? This line can be a very tricky line to draw between you and the world, but where you draw this line says a lot about how you value your own time, as well as the time of those around you.

Put simply, if you want balance in your social interactions, you need to be fair to your existing friends as well as potential ones, and social networking sites too often get in the way of maintaining that balance. Not to mention that the internet is usually used in a very low-bandwidth way to communicate with someone. (Learn how to leverage both High-bandwidth and Low-Bandwidth communication in the article entitled “Why Long Distance Friendships Always Fade”.)

Ask Yourself This

So before you decide to go hyper-open and ultra-reachable through your myface profile (you know what I mean), ask yourself this:

“If someone actually wants to get ahold of me for something that’s actually important, is this really the best way for them to contact me, or have I overlooked some more logical alternatives?”

Am I crazy, or isn’t there a better way to communicate with people?

2 bits on How an Open Social Profile will Ruin Your REAL Social Life

  1. During the past few years I’ve found it increasingly difficult to keep up with people I actually know – yet at the same time correspond often with those who I have never met.

  2. I totally agree with you! Social networks are the waste of time. You spend all your time on them but then you run out of energy and do nothing. I wish more people realized it.