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Knowing me, knowing you. 7 October 2012

Posted by Dr Moose in Faith, Life, Ponderings, Technology, University.
Tags: , , ,

Tomorrow is National Personal Safety Day 2012, and some glossy posters and flyers have appeared around the university. Targeted primarily, I presume, at students and younger people it contains some sensible guidelines on safety and awareness, which will probably be ignored.

There’s nothing wrong with warning people to be cautious of flashing their expensive smartphones, especially while unaccompanied in public late at night.

There’s nothing wrong with the reminder that if you travel round in a cocoon of music provided through ear-plugs or headphones you are likely to be less-aware of potential dangers around you, and so reduce your opportunities to escape from them. (It’s the reason I drive with car hazard indicators flashing around certain parts of campus!)

There is nothing wrong with warning about the dangers of freely-sharing too much information online (and I need only to look at Facebook profiles of most of the students I meet at Uni to see a completely different attitude to “personal” data!) The only thing that I do find jarring is the statement “Be careful that you don’t fall into the trap of thinking you know people who you ‘meet’ online. You don’t. You only know what they have chosen to tell you.” It is immediately followed by the wise advice to never agree to meet someone you have only met online in a busy public place, but it’s the assertion, or the phraseology, itself I find disturbs me slightly. Its relevance is not confined to the virtual realm. Aside from the broadest categories of age and gender it applies to any new meeting. It presupposes, maybe correctly in the realm of personal safety awareness, a naivety about the speed of contact.

“You only know what they have chosen to tell you.” The same could be said of most of us and many of our contacts. It is only over time, and through engagement to some degree or another, that we discover who others truly are. Indeed it’s the only way we discover who we each really are as individuals. I use Facebook a lot, for pleasure and for work. It provides one tool among many for contact, communication and the potential growth of relationships. It’s not perfect, and is actually much more manageable accessed through a Twitter-client, which allows filtering out of so much of the bloat. I am in touch with a number of old friends through it, and yes, I do wonder how much they have changed in the last 25 years. Simultaneously I am in touch with people, no, I am friends with people, around the world, who I have never seen, and never spoken too except through the written medium of bulletin board systems, and at a far deeper level than Facebook. Would I like them if I met them? Maybe, maybe not. Of course I only know what they have chosen to tell me. But isn’t that the same for all of us?

Technology, as always, is not the problem. The problem is about how we use it. And sometimes another problem is about how we choose to speak about the technology, and the implications within that speech.

(If I were a card-carrying Evangelical Christian this morning I would now launch into a short piece about how God chooses to reveal himself to us in Jesus Christ through the medium of  the Gospel, historical expression, reason and personal experience, but I’ll leave you to think about that and go for a shower, which might be “too much information”!)



1. Jane Williams - 7 October 2012

Well, if you meet someone face to face, there are things you learn about them that they could have chosen to lie about if you only meet virtually. Things like their gender, height, age. The classic scenario of meeting someone you expected to be your own age and gender, and finding yourself in a dark alley with a predator three times your age and strength may or may not have any validity behind it, but it’s at least possible.

But beyond that – yes, all very true. In fact, a lot of people I chat to on-line, I know far better than the ones i merely chat to face-to-face, because we spend a lot more time chatting, and the responses are better thought out, not produced under “answer in next second or be interrupted” pressure.

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