W.H. Auden wrote that "it is better to have private faces in public spaces than public faces in private spaces."
That classic sentiment of a mid-twentieth century liberal is now almost quaint given where we have now arrived. In the age of the internet, the strict separation between a public and private world is increasingly untenable.
A case in point: a report today on NPR's "Morning Edition" noted that the wildly popular youth "networking" website, "Facebook," will be opening up its pages to advertisers who are hungrily licking their lips to get at the treasure trove of information about students on the site. Students post a wealth of information about themselves on the site - including, at times, some rather compromising information that has hurt them when they have applied for jobs! - such as favorite music, sexual orientation, political orientation, links to all their "friends" - and all this information is going to save advertisers immense amounts of research, effort and money in providing a whole range of advertising profiles.
A student once asked me what kind of social life we could possibly have had in college before the advent of Facebook (hell, he was surprised that I'm old enough to remember the days before the internet and even the personal computer - and I'm not that old...). I replied that we would hang out in dorm rooms shooting the breeze until odd hours of the morning. Perhaps our communication was less efficient - we had fewer "friends," as the word is promiscuously used in the Facebook networking world (in which making friends with someone consists of sending an electronic invitation) - but our conversations were meandering, leisurely, and ongoing. I wonder what kind of good life our students can achieve if one of their primary forms of socialization so easily, and so readily, will be turned to the ends of commerce and consumption. Do they know their online openness is being sliced and diced by the captains of industry? When words like "friendship" have been so debased, it may no longer strike one as odd that the social world one inhabits can so easily be turned to utilitarian ends.