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From The Trenches
Issue: 36-3

When is TMI really, really TMI?

I'm thinking of having blueberry yogurt for lunch.

I know what you're thinking right now: How were you ever going to make it through your day without knowing that? And in five hours you'll need to know the potential lineup for dinner, because my choice of flounder or Mrs. Paul's fish sticks may change the entire timbre of your evening. And goodness knows, the fate of the free world rests on you knowing whether or not I'm thinking of watching "CSI" tonight.

Meantime, I'll keep you entertained with every photo ever taken of me, from my first isn't-she-darlin'-when-she-drools snapshot to my nightmarish lavender dotted-swiss prom dress. I think you'll be particularly enthralled by the grainy Polaroids of my 1982 vacation with people you've never met.

Because, after all, these are all things you desperately need to know about me, preferably in every-five-minute updates throughout your otherwise dull and lackluster day.

Yeah, I'm making fun of social media. You bet. Tell the truth: You, too, have rolled your eyes at some of the documentation of mundane minutiae people post about their personal lives.

This is not to say that I don't embrace such platforms as Facebook, which can be not only highly entertaining but downright useful. Just after the earthquake, when the TV satellite signals died and the cell towers jammed, it was the only communication method that worked.

But sometimes such social platforms can lead to, uh, let's call it oversharing. And anyone who doesn't think that Big Brudder is watching is kidding themselves. Two proofs: 1. When I was trying to learn Italian and acquired scores of Italian friends on a Facebook account, all the right-column ads on my America-based account morphed into Italian within two weeks. (Che diavolo?) 2. Not long ago I clicked on two orders online, then changed my mind and didn't complete the process. For the next week those exact same two items popped up as ads at unrelated sites, which was both amusing and unsettling.

So when it comes to putting information on the Internet, how much is too much?

I recently had cause to think about this at length because we did a massive Internet overhaul that included a new NSTCW site, updates on the J.S.Mosby site and my research site, and the institution of yet another site that will go live shortly. Along with this were updates on the magazine's Facebook page, which engendered a discussion about whether or not to use Twitter as well.

The decision was no. Call me a throwback, but the notion of "following" people on Twitter strikes me as a vaguely creepy combination of stalking and slavishness. More, it's not as though there is much late-breaking news about the outcome of the Civil War that requires the immediate attention and swift action of our readers. ("Can U Blieve it? Live frm Appomattox #LeeSurrenders.")

So I'd be reduced to tweeting what I had for lunch, and I'm fairly certain you have more important things to think about. I'll add that I have nothing against people who love Twitter, but an inordinate percentage of the tweets I've read strike me as a bit twitty. I once accidentally got caught in a People magazine Twitter loop, and it took industrial strength sandpaper and Clorox to get the Kardashian off me. Plus, my IQ plummeted twenty points.

Although I'm poking some fun at this, it seems to me that the availability of such media should give rise to some serious thought about how much of one's personal information one should provide for mass consumption—particularly for collectors. For instance, announcing on any social platform that one will be in New Zealand for two weeks strikes me as tantamount to handing a second-story man keys and directions to the heirloom silver. Along the same lines, I've never given a website my actual birthday, but that's probably less in fear of identity theft than because it's just cheap fun to convince a machine that I'm 29.

There's also the question of how much information you have a right to put out there about other people. Now living in Internet infamy is the tweet of a Hollywood type with a quarter million "followers" in which he vindictively gave out someone's street address. It was the wrong address, and the inhabitants had to move to a hotel until the entirely misdirected furor died down.

What strikes me as the real danger about these instant-send-instant-receive messages isn't so much boring someone into a coma—although that's a risk—it's rashly putting TMI on a virtual billboard at your peril or someone else's. This consideration should give security-conscious collectors reason for pause.

I know of one case in which a Facebook post announced that, we'll call him Mr. iPhone, was out at a nightclub with Mr. Well-known Art Collector. The post went to 5,000 "friends" of Mr. iPhone. (I'm not sure I even know 5,000 people.) Art Collector came home to find that his house had been burgled. It's unknown at present if there was any causal relationship, but it does make you wonder.

So, in sum: No, you will not be receiving tweets from NSTCW about today's yogurt flavor.

We have a magazine Facebook page and would love to have you visit, but we won't be posting birth dates, baby photos, or extended absences on it—yours or ours.

Last, while I'm quite fond of certain aspects of social media, you will never, ever see photos of that tragic prom dress. Some historical artifacts should stay buried.               —Ed.




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