It turns out the internet is a tiny place. It’s not the vast, cavernous, roomy anonymous pleasure dome I’d once mistakenly believed it, it’s actually only about 300 people big. And everyone knows everyone else.
Or at least, that’s what you’d be forgiven for thinking if you spend as much time online as I do. This past week alone, I’ve bumped into more people who already know people I know. Often they know a couple of people who are in totally separate social circles, all of whom do something or other on the internet.
it shouldn’t really come as a surprise to me – after all, that’s what this virtual village of ours is all about, right? But suddenly it’s all starting to feel a little bit claustrophobic in here and I’ll tell you for why.
Sociologists love talking about how technology has brought us all closer together (and I like to join them), recreating that small village feel we no longer have, allowing us to share mundane trivialities with friends online (or on the phone). Things that we once used to bore our neighbours with over the garden fence are now shared on Facebook status updates, via text or on Twitter. And while curmudgeonly types may complain that it’s all just inane chatter, that inane chatter is what helps us all to feel a little less isolated in this busy, over-populated world of ours.
But the problem is, whenever I want to share some minor grievance on Twitter, I suddenly can’t any more. Why? Because in nearly every case it turns out the person who’s just incurred my wrath also has a Twitter account and follows loads of the same people. Someone moaned about Shiny the other day and then messaged me an awkward Direct Message when he realised we followed each other. And last week I met a couple who, on checking their blogs (yes, I web stalked them), knew at least 3 unconnected (I thought) groups of people that I knew (plus, I’d taught their daughter to crochet).
It’s all very nice, of course (if a little weird), to find that we’re all just one big happy family, but that’s no good when you want to complain that some idiot’s just cancelled a meeting on you at the last moment and it turns out that everyone knows who you’re talking about. I’ve seen tweets moaning about bosses, potential bosses, clients and companies and I’ve known exactly who is being talked about. (Of course, sometimes this is done on purpose, but “passive aggressive uses for the internet” is a column for another day).
I don’t know why I’m complaining – after all, that’s exactly what village life is like. I can’t leave the house without someone twitching the virtual curtains, and there’s no piece of gossip I can share about myself that my friends haven’t already heard about through either the grapevine or my own digital bleetings. In fact, Twitter has now seen the coming together and the very public break up of two virtual inhabitants, all played out in front of the whole community. It was like something straight out of Cranford.
So, if you find yourself gossiping about people on Twitter or Facebook who you hardly even see in real life, then you know you’re part of that same village, where sharing the little details of your life goes hand in hand with the loss of your privacy.
In this village we’re all the local Nosey Parker.
(Now I’m off to tell the people on Twitter that I just wrote a column)