Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Evan Ratfliff attempts to vanish from a "plugged in" world.
When Wired writer Evan Ratliff disappeared, the promise of a $5,000 reward led several hunters to attempt to track him down. Ratliff's disappearance wasn't a conspiracy or mystery of any sort; it was a stunt that served the purpose of answering a very valid question in this technology-obsessed day and age: is it possible to "vanish" when your personal information was, at one time, out there for the world to see? Whether it's Facebook, Myspace, Twitter or a blog, we've all got some sort of Internet presence. And even when you delete your accounts, that information is still out there. Scary, huh?

In this fascinating piece for Wired, Ratliff writes about his quest to remake his identity. The piece not only tracks this process, but also brings forth the insane amounts of information about ourselves available to the public. Hunters were able to track Ratliff's ATM transactions, locate his whereabouts and more--all through the Internet. So much for privacy!

Lately, a few of my friends have been disappearing off of the social media radar. The other night I was talking to one friend about the whereabouts of another friend. "She's at a concert right now," I told him, and he asked me which one. I went to look it up on Facebook where she had checked in, and then felt silly. Is this the true purpose of Facebook? To stalk our friends? And what is this concept of "friendship" that Facebook has defined for us lately? Some people have hundreds of Facebook friends, but how many of those hundreds of people can you count as an actual friend?

The question of "identity" is up in the air too. We are defined by what our Facebooks say about us or the things we post on Tumblr. You don't need to ask someone their interests anymore because you can just go look at their interests on Facebook (granted, they have anything on there for you to see). So, then...are you really friends with me or who you think I am based on my Facebook profile?

I've been contemplating jumping off of the Facebook bandwagon myself, but have hesitated for no concrete reason. I would only be keeping Facebook for several not-very-important purposes: 1) to distract me at work; 2) to stalk people when I'm bored; and 3) to communicate with others when I'm too lazy to make a goddamn effort myself.

No, seriously. Social media has made us lazy. (I know, I know--"what a hypocrite.") But it's a fact: it's such a non-effort to post on someone's Facebook, to Tweet at someone, to send an email or a text...whatever, because that person will reply to you whenever he/she is free. There's little effort in it; communication doesn't need to take place right away. "At your own convenience"--really, that's what it is.

And am I so desperate for these types of relationships? I don't know, maybe I am, but is it worth feeling dreadful about myself, waiting for someone to return a text or Facebook wall post in some desperate hope to feel like I have a friend in someone? I would hope not. I think there are more worthwhile friendships made from mutual efforts that are worth pursuing over these other "convenient" ones--especially those friendships you'd like to think (hope) are meaningful ones indeed.

In that case...maybe I should get off of the social media radar. I don't want my life to be populated with "convenient friendships," filled with people who like talking about plans and pretending to make plans and desiring plans, but never following through. I like taking the effort to spend time with people, sit down and get coffee or lunch or just talk a walk somewhere and talk about anything, frivolous or serious. I like seeing people's facial expressions and watching their habits as they talk, laugh or smile. Call it the "observant journalist" in me, but it makes interacting with others more interesting and much more personal than a sporadic wall post or cursory text message will do.

Or maybe I'm just really high maintenance.


  1. Traci,

    I love this. And like I tell my kids, I remember when I didn't have a cell phone or a computer! I remember when guys had to call my parents house and ask to talk to me (eek! embarrassing).

    Sometimes I want to get rid of everything too, and yet, Jason tells me "but what if... ?" I say, "eh. they did just fine without it 30 years ago."

    Anyway, you are always welcome to hang, chat walk, go to the beach or have dinner at our house with us. Jason truly values your friendship. And we love coffee, so I'm game (and Jason too) when you are, you'll just have to accept our kids too.

    And if I read this wrong, sorry. Jason always tells me that I don't read closely enough and often miss the point...


  2. I like to get on my soapbox on this topic, but you did a good job covering what I'd normally say - especially the part about having hundreds of friends on FB but not really having many actual friends who you can call FRIENDS. The other day, someone texted me and said she was having a housewarming party that she announced on FB - and halfway through the party, she realized we weren't there. She texted me and asked if we were friends on FB. We're not, since I'm not on FB; but we're friends in real life. I wasn't offended, but I thought it was a funny incident. If something is new with me, I want people to hear it firsthand from me. And if someone finds out something firsthand from me, that shows that I care about them enough to think of them and to share something with them; they're not just one of hundreds of my "friends" on FB that I'm sharing important news with. And if someone will only keep in touch with me because I'm on FB, well, that just shows that they don't care enough to put the effort into a friendship - and I'm not going to waste my time on them.