I had a rather amusing exchange with a friend recently. When I got sucked into FaceBook I did the usual mass e-mail to almost everyone I have an e-mail address for inviting them all to be my "friends." And I got what I assume is the usual response: about half said yes, about half about ignored the message, one or two said they didn't do FaceBook because it can turn into such a time sucker, and one did a long explication on government and corporate conspiracies that are eventually going to end with none of us having any claim to privacy and being linked together in some sort of bizarre hive-mind commune cheerfully lining up to provide Soylent Green to our overlords. Or maybe we'll all just be singing "Kumbaya" around the embers of a dying civilization -- the endgame wasn't real clear.
Well, I figured out quite awhile ago it's a little late for anyone in this country to worry about personal privacy. We gave that right up about the same time we as a society collectively agreed we'd register births, names were fixed, and we'd all have social security numbers, drivers licenses, and check cashing IDs. The privacy we have isn't because no one can find us; it's because most of the time no one cares.
And in my own case, not only do I work for the government, I'm apparently the only person in this country with my name. So my life is an open book. Want to know exactly where I work? Check the employee directory for Large Nameless Agency. Want to know how much money I make? There's a website for that, too. It'll be an approximation because the database is usually running about a year behind, but it'll tell you my job title and pay grade -- and from that it's pretty easy to figure out my current salary down to the last dime because the Office of Personnel Management puts out wage tables that break it down by locality.
Want to know what my professional and personal interests are? Where I went to school? That was all out there in the public domain long before I ever stumbled into FaceBook's world. Depending on how someone Googles me, they'll discover real fast that 53 out of 71 people found my book reviews on Amazon.com helpful, I share a birthday with Macchiavelli and Golda Meier, I graduated from Michigan Technological University, and I'm a member of the Forest History Society.
On the other hand, my paranoid acquaintance has a name that is shared by a dozens, possibly hundreds, of fellow Americans. Want to be anonymous and obscure in a linked society? Have a name that's possessed by several hundred other people scattered everywhere from Bangor, Maine, to Orange County, California. You're still not invisible, but you're definitely lower profile in cyberspace than someone with a more unique moniker. (The drawback to having a common name, of course, is that you just might share it with someone who's on the "no fly list" or is wanted for bank robbery in half a dozen states.)
Implicit in the concern about getting involved in FaceBook is the fear of government conspiracies, the idea that the NSA, FBI, and other spooks are busy spying on us all. What if they are? I'm not too thrilled with the idea, but, hey, I work for the government. I know how incompetent we are (e.g., "desk side recycling"). So my major concern isn't the fact that we might be spying -- it's that we're probably doing it badly. I don't particularly want various law enforcement agencies shredding the Constitution, but at the same time as a taxpayer I'd prefer that when they do shred it they at least do so competently.