No, I’m not a luddite who fears intrusive new technology and abhors its use. Nor am I a hermit who refuses to join in the fun of interacting with others through online social networks. I’m on Facebook, I’m on LinkedIn, I’m connected with high school colleagues, and I even have a profile on a popular dating site. I love social networking and its ability to keep me connected to my friends even while I’m at home in my pajamas.
What I am is a strong advocate of the return of the concept of “no,” which has apparently fallen into sad neglect in our modern not-my-responsibility world. People don’t say no to their children, they don’t say no to deadlines they can’t meet, they don’t even say no to members of the opposite sex they don’t really want to date. And they don’t seem to be able to say no to intrusive electronic requests to “be my friend” either – as exemplified in this very funny video from UK comedy group Idiots of Ants.
I hear a lot of complaints on this issue. One friend tells a story of her ex-husband’s girlfriend (instrumental in the marriage breakup) who sent a Facebook friend request months later, apropos of nothing. A friend’s wife friended someone who turned out to be her college stalker. Another friend refuses to have anything to do with social networks, for fear of his personal information getting out. I myself recently received a request from someone who claims to have been a schoolmate, but whom I don’t remember ever having seen before. And most people complain about the constant invitations to play games and be compared to everyone else.
But all these situations have one simple solution: Just say no. Click “ignore,” click “block,” click “refuse.” You don’t have to play “What’s On My Pants?” You don’t have to talk to the person you broke up with in the 9th grade. And you can remove your tag from any picture of you that someone posts. All these requests need approval from you, and it is your right to withhold that approval. Saying no doesn’t mean you are a bad person – boundaries are important, and it takes work to maintain them. Despite what Robert Frost says.
Just about every social networking site has provisions for controlling what information about you can be seen by various levels of friends, and what notifications you receive by email. Sometimes it may take a little reading through the how-to sections, but it can always be done. However, no one is going to do it for you – all these preferences and safeguards have to be set by you.
Take back the responsibility for your availability online. The ability to “opt out” is a feature demanded by the populace and by most widely-used social networking sites – take advantage of it. Don’t be afraid to say no.