When an e-mail worm affected my rarely used Hotmail account, I did the judicious thing and changed my password. I've never used Hotmail as a primary e-mail account, but was still hung up on MSN Messenger, where the majority of my online communications used to take place. Somehow, the Hotmail password change didn't register with MSN Messenger, and the Live Messenger client has refused my credentials ever since. Since very few of my friends actually used instant messaging anymore, I didn't lose much, so never bothered to investigate further.
It was a rather quaint relic of the early days of the Internet, having to download an application that could only communicate with others using the same application; online social networking has been the domain of large web-based platforms like Facebook and Twitter for quite some time now. I avoided those services early on, and somehow that became my "thing". People came to know me as "the brother who hates Facebook", and for lack of anything else, I decided to embrace that title. I found alternatives to the services that Facebook provides, with the critical exception of actual people. If I were to join, however, it would feel like being late to a party.
But peer pressure and the cuteness of my newborn daughter caught up to me, so now I have a Facebook account. The first thing I found bothersome was how much of a profile they already had on me. I had been tagged in other people's pictures in the past, and every single invitation I've received over the years has been kept in their databases, awaiting me upon my first login. So, even without being a member, the Facebook team could already identify me, or almost anyone else with an e-mail address, in great detail if ever required. From a privacy perspective, this bothered me, but if I had anything to hide, I wouldn't have a blog with my real name either.
The other thing that annoyed me was the famous "Facebook picture". One of the first things I did was look up my old high school to find people I've lost touch with over the years. And almost every profile picture was the same overexposed shot of random people holding alcoholic beverages while hooting at the camera; usually one of them looks like he or she is about to vomit. That picture wasn't clever or original or even interesting the first time, and it isn't any more interesting the eighteenth time. Somehow, after seeing people I know in these shots, I can never look at them the same way afterward.
As a data architect by day, I've always been fascinated by the layers of information that we expose online, and how they can be pieced together. An e-mail address can be considered as a globally unique identifier from which one can consolidate all the various data streams to put together a comprehensive repository of data. It's a little bit scary, but from a purely technical perspective it's rather intriguing.
Communication has evolved over time, and I suppose it was only a matter of time before I caught up. One of the more recent trends has been the efforts of consolidating all the various protocols into single streams accessible anywhere. The Palm Pre has Synergy, HTC does it in the Sense UI, and Motorola is now pushing their MotoBLUR system, all in an effort to unify online identities to actual people; anonymity and privacy are hardly objectives.
These trends will continue for some time, as protocols open up and intercommunication becomes easier. And eventually, who we are online may be as important to ones livelihood as who we are offline.
But as people, as human beings, we must keep our humanity alive through our works, and not our status messages. Joining a Facebook group condemning something does not equate to standing up for justice. Writing a wall post in support of a sick friend can never replace visiting them in person. And one cannot fulfill the rights of family by "friending" them.
It takes a little blood, sweat, and tears to attain goodness in life. It's what separates man from machine.