Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reverse Turing

Are we sufficiently terrified of Facebook and other "social networking" hoo-haw? Mightn't we post an unflattering image of ourselves, or find that someone else did so for us? What if we post an incautious comment that someone finds unkind, provocative, inelegantly expressed, athwart or across the boundaries of the stalest of opinions we regularly encounter on broadcast television? What if a thing we post, or neglect to post, suggests that we do not warrant the approval of all good people?

We certainly want prospective employers to regard us as beings without history or entanglements. The German government is considering legal changes to this end:
The bill would allow managers to search for publicly accessible information about prospective employees on the Web and to view their pages on job networking sites, like LinkedIn or Xing. But it would draw the line at purely social networking sites like Facebook ... The proposal is meant to create guidelines for the courts in handling the cases that will inevitably arise as social networking penetrates further into everyday life ...
"Everyday life" -- the phrase invokes the crude animals we are, and we should thank the news report for the restraint of the prose here, which declines to expound on our disgusting tendency to defecate, perspire, express emotions, scratch ourselves, spread vermin, state opinions, throw off disgusting odors, and so on. As these tendencies cannot be eliminated -- not yet -- the best available compromise appears to be the one proposed here, to erect a wall that shields employers from the filth of their supplicants and functionaries.

No such law obtains in the USA; we must, for now, fend for ourselves -- or more exactly, fend for the protection of elite sensibilities. In light of the paralyzing fear that someone of consequence could object to one or another aspect of my life, I formerly listed my "interests" as follows on Facebook:
Limited to that of such spotless purity and firm good sense that it would never produce the smallest concern or mildest conflict with any conceivable employer, judge, jury, police officer, FBI minder, priest, rabbi, imam, deity, sage, spiritual adviser, savant, philosopher, hallowed tradition, lawyer, cherished ideal, ethical system, norm, standard, spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, cousin, significant other, guardian, landlord, neighbor, friend, associate, co-worker, superior officer, doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner, dietitian, psychologist, counselor, referee, coach, therapist, teacher, animal trainer, shift manager, ethics panel, professional organization, organ donor, organ donee, tutor, awards panel, editor, review board, blue ribbon commission, select committee, working group, health inspector, quality control auditor, tax auditor, independent ratings agency, board of directors, shareholder majority, shareholder plurality, legislative quorum, efficiency expert, life coach, personal trainer, adoption agency, genome sequencer, peer review, certification-granting entity, licensor, branch of government, principal, head of state, stakeholder, ally, mechanic, state of conscience, hygiene regimen, intelligence gatherer, investigator, voice coach, insurance claims adjudicator, safety inspector, financial adviser, advice columnist, campaign manager, or stickler for etiquette.
I have since thought better of listing these interests because someone out there might mistake it for irony, and irony doesn't win in today's competitive marketplaces of ideas, employment, and social climbing.

Until we reach a higher state in which all labor is performed by machines or by laborers so thoroughly remote from sight and hearing as to be indistinguishable from machines -- hidden-away task-performers who can consistently fail a Turing test -- we can only do our best to become the change we so desperately want to see in the world. That change begins with you, dear reader, and the necessity binds us all.

(Image via Awkward Family Photos)

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