In economics, we talk about a free market bringing consumers and producers to an allocation that will be in everyone’s best interest, a result that does not require any consideration by the participants of the well being of others in the economy. This idea, sometimes called the “Adam Smith Hypothesis”, relies on several assumptions, some of which make sense and some which might be suspect in our modern economy. One of the assumptions needed for such a powerful result is the assumption of free information, that those in the economy have access to reliable information that they do not need to pay for. This assumption comes to mind when I realize that I am one of the last people in North America who is not yet a member of Facebook.
I know that my days without Facebook are probably numbered, but for now, I am not a member. I do find that this limits my contacts with former classmates, as I needed to establish contact through old fashioned (?) e-mail in order to learn the details of my high school class reunion a few years ago. My desire to not join comes from a reluctance to share personal information, and to share it for free. I cringe when I check out at the grocery store and swipe my membership card, since I know that the store will now have a record of my purchases, no matter how un-nutritious they may be. But when I do so, I receive a discount on some of my purchases because I have shared that information, as well as a further discount on gas purchased through the same store. In contrast, when dealing with Facebook, it seems that one is asked to share information about oneself without being given anything tangible in return. I suppose that connecting with old acquaintances could be considered a return, but it does not seem to be worth the time or energy that I see some investing into the medium.
A recent column by Dean Dad brought up the question of whether it is appropriate to use social media in the role of college professor. Many people responded to his thoughts, with several suggesting that professors assume two different names and personas based on the population they wish to interact with. I thought this was a good idea, and realized that I do something similar myself, using my married name in situations that involve my family and daughter, and my given name professionally. It seemed like only a bit more work to take this to the next level and create two on-line personas that would allow one to use Facebook to interact with students and friends separately. My reluctance to join has nothing to do with administrators who would prefer I not do so, as I suspect that most of my superiors here at Ursuline are actually on social media themselves. Nor is it (strictly) a fear of technology, although I must admit that some of the conversations I hear about Facebook seem mystifying. Rather, it is a desire for a level of privacy that many have pointed out I can’t actually have in this digital age, anyhow. As my husband points out, just about any information about my life that would be found on Facebook could be gained through a simple on-line search of my name.
I recently mentioned in a discussion in the graduate class I teach this semester that I was not on Facebook, and was surprised to learn that at least one of my students was not, either. And so, I ask you, my readers; are any of you still living in a world without Facebook, and if so, what are the benefits and costs of doing so?