Social networks are intrusive nuisances

January 12, 2009

Count me out. I will not be part of your social network. I don't want to be your business buddy. I have no desire to be listed as your friend. In fact, I deny any relationship, including kinship, exists between us.

It is not because I don't like you. The chances, from what I have seen, are that I don't know you. If I do know you, it has skipped my mind, been erased from both my short-term and long-term memory-storage units. The synapses have snapped.

Even if I do know you, I don't want to know or be known by the people you know. I choose not to open myself to an endless series of electronically transmitted social diseases, including the presumptions of proximity.

Therefore, I have terminated my listing on LinkedIn. I will not be pestered by users of Plaxo. I don't want to be part of a Reunion with people I would prefer to forget as Classmates. I have no interest in your homemade videos posted on YouTube. My face will never appear on Facebook. I will not have space on MySpace nor will I be known to users of SpaceFace, MugShot or PotShop.

I did, at one point a few months ago, start a blog. But when uncertified lunatics began to correspond with me, I discontinued any new posting. While I am always happy to respond to lucid readers of this column, I turn frozen scorn on those whose rhetoric is more caloric than mine.

Never have I participated in a chat room. I have no interest in chat, a transitory activity best practiced while waiting with strangers for an elevator. Serious or lighthearted conversation is acceptable if it cannot be avoided.

The goal of communication is to put forth a set of ideas, not to engage in an exchange of verbal grapeshot. Most often, however, instead of an interaction of ideas, we experience contests of egos for dominance.

Reading, listening to the radio, watching television and hearing sermons are unilateral means of communication. We can absorb what others think or believe. We can contrast those views with our own or still other sets of ideas. But we do not need to engage in debate to score points.

Perhaps if we had more training in the interchange of ideas, we could communicate with, rather than compete with, others. However, most education provides only the inculcation of received dogma. Rarely are students asked to consider coexisting truths (Creationism aside). We teach our children only that individual choice is optimal but that collective choices are inferior. Then we sit about scratching ourselves, wondering why families are dysfunctional.

In the future, the Internet may become a strong instrument of meaningful communication. At this point, however, I see it as little more than a substitute for the Postal Service. While the dollar cost is moderate, the time cost is overwhelming.

So I am opting out of all networks. However, if I were compensated adequately, I might be willing to be your online friend or business acquaintance. I might, at the right (high) price, be willing to chat.

Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mmarcus@ibj.com.

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