Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday 17 February 2023

Behind the World’s Biggest Bike Shed

Never having indulged in Facebook (for obvious reasons; as JuliaM puts it with admirable clarity, ‘Facebook and teachers - like matter and anti-matter’), it was something of a surprise to be asked about a recent celebration by someone who had seen me in candid pictures taken and posted by one of the guests, a mutual friend, who had also included a picture taken in front of my house. Not being signed up, I couldn’t be tagged by name, but I was still clearly recognisable to anyone who knows me by sight.

I appreciate that this makes me sound old-fashioned, but this felt like a major invasion of privacy. While I might equally well, in the past, have figured in printed photos shown to friends or colleagues, appearing in digital form online and reliant on someone else’s privacy settings makes me distinctly uncomfortable, particularly given the inclusion of my home (with associated geolocation).

I’ve long been uneasy about putting images in the public domain (so much so that, along with a handful of other die-hards, I refused to obey the Head’s diktat requiring individual portrait photos for the school website - I know how good some teenagers are with photoshop). It seems petty to be annoyed about it - and a snap of bunch of fifty-somethings chatting round a lunch table is hardly going to cause a sensation - but I do feel there is a principle at stake here.

This attitude is presumably incomprehensible to youngsters who, seduced by the lure of social media and the world of the influencer - not to mention numerous attention-seeking celebrities constantly pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in the public domain - are constantly aiming for maximum online exposure. Unfortunately for them, the internet is an unforgiving place; put a picture of your youthful indiscretions online (or have one posted by someone else) and there’s no telling when it may come back to bite you.

There’s a good deal of sense in the words of a wise Headmaster (rare, but they do exist) who advised pupils not to post anything online which they would not be happy to see on the side of a bus driving down the High Street the next day. Sadly, staffroom anecdotal evidence suggests many teenagers take a very different attitude: in the words of one world-weary colleague, “It’s a full-time job trying to stop them putting their tits all over the internet”.

From long professional association with them, I’d argue that teenagers should be equipped with a sign on their foreheads reading ‘Under Construction’ to remind people - themselves included - that there is a great deal of essential rewiring happening inside, not least in the areas governing risk-taking and self-image. Once upon a time, unwary and over-bold adolescents might end up inside a sabre-toothed tiger; these days, they may well find themselves exposed, so to speak, on a global stage.

If Twitter is, in the words of the Tavern’s Wise Woman, ‘ the world’s biggest lavatory wall’, then the world of social media provides the digital equivalent of the school bike sheds as the scene of myriad nefarious activities intended mainly to show off to one’s peers and enjoy the thrill of breaking rules - with the significant difference that what happens there could now be available for all to see.

Time will tell whether this becomes a problem with future employers or partners - and the undiscovered country ahead includes the thorny question of how tomorrow’s children will react to seeing in glorious technicolour what their parents got up to in their salad days - but I, for one, am glad there’s no record out there of my irresponsible youth.


  1. I've avoided Facebook too. Mrs H used it to contact an old friend, but avoids making much use of it beyond that.

    I suppose the problems are becoming known and even teenagers may learn to be wary, but it's not something I'd bet on just yet.

    1. Not sure teenagers will ever learn to be wary; more likely they will continue to post in haste and repent at leisure.

      If I were a speculative type (and had the money), I’d invest in businesses offering to clean up one’s digital past. I suspect this is already a lucrative field; I recently discovered that a business has opened up locally offering ‘reputation management’ from a very plush office which certainly wouldn’t have come cheap.

  2. It can be useful. Just register in a name that's not reallly your own!

    1. I’m not convinced; I’ve managed this long without it and it goes against the grain to use it and possibly - as with silent members of the teaching unions - be counted as a happy camper because I’ve never said anything to the contrary.

  3. I'm the same. Nothing of myself goes on the internet if I can help it. My blog and Twitter are both anonymouse
    I have a close colleague at work who puts everything on Facebook, including one year, me dancing at the Christmas party. I was fuming. She still does not understand my anger at that, but she does understand not to do it again
    I do have a facebook account which I check occasionally. It's not anon and I use it for a car club, a retro gaming club and to post the odd provocative meme

  4. That’s the most worrying aspect for me - that someone can not understand why you would not want to appear on the internet.

    I have to admit to being baffled by some aspects of it; why, for example, would a friend wish her husband a happy birthday on Facebook when they woke up in the same bed that morning?

    I can only conclude that some people have shifted their perspective to living life entirely in the public eye, as a performance, so to speak, in much the same manner as Louis XIV.

    1. I don't think such people comment on facebook because they actually want to wish their spouse happy birthday, but because they want the 'likes' that come with doing so.
      Have you seen the film 'The Circle'? (Tom Hanks, Emma Watson). It takes living in the public eye to it's fathest possible conclusion

    2. How sad to be so desperate for validation that you effectively sell your relationship for ‘likes’!

      I did see the film some years ago but I’m putting it back on my ‘to watch’ list - thank you! - as I think hindsight and a bit more background knowledge might make it interesting to see it again (I seem to remember thinking at the time that some plot elements might as well have been in Ancient Aramaic for all the sense they made to me then).

    3. Very sad indeed, but there's a lot of it about these days. The film bored me a little, but the concept was interesting


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