Thursday, June 18, 2009

Facebook FOIA* Part I

What did we all do before Facebook? How did we get through the day not knowing what Jennie ate for breakfast, that she “is” (yes, that’s a profound one) and that some quiz - devised by someone with a fifth grader’s grasp of grammar - has determined that Jennie is most like Rachel from Friends?

No doubt Facebook has changed how we share and receive information in ways that work to our benefit and to our detriment.** Before Facebook, you could send out an email to friends announcing some type of news and chances are this information was staying within the realm of people who knew you and who actually cared. The photos of your last trip to Spain or from your niece’s birthday party were likely not being forwarded on to virtual strangers in mass emails (unless, of course, your trip to Spain was that good). With the advent of Facebook, however, we can all be exhibitionists to the extent we feel the need to be and there are certainly no lack of voyeurs...

This blog, naturally, wishes to concern itself primarily with Facebook’s impact on the dating world. Although, while I have the floor, I would just like to say on behalf of all the non-married people out there to their married friends – yes, we think your two year old looks adorable with a milk mustache, but does that have to be YOUR profile picture?! Ok, moving on…

There’s no question that Facebook’s emergence in our lives over the past few years and the information overload that comes with it has had a significant effect on the interaction among its “single” users. If you think about it, back in the day if you met someone at a bar or a party, chances are it would take several dates before you could gather certain critical information about him or her. Now, you can look someone up on Facebook and obtain a wealth of information in under five minutes. Clearly, with all the information people put at Facebook’s 200 million users’ fingertips,
there are bound to be judgments made and dating opportunities lost or gained. If you think that people are not assessing what you choose to write or post, think again (e.g., exactly why is this person becoming a fan of NYC?)

Indeed, sometimes such easily accessed information about an individual can have a surprisingly positive effect on a prospective suitor (i.e.,wow, for such a scenester, Sasha’s status updates are unexpectedly insightful”). While sometimes a little bit of research can have just the opposite effect (i.e., "ok, having read Andrew’s posts quoting Rush Limbaugh, it’s clear he’s a right wing fanatic" ). Likewise, if someone is playing Mafia Wars all day, you have to wonder if he actually has any interest in his job (read: ambition).

Let’s address the assessment of photos, because - let’s face it - when someone sends a friend request, pictures are always the first thing people click on.*** Say you’re a guy who hit on fifteen girls at a charity event last night and now one of them, Jennie, is sending you a friend request. Perhaps you drank a bit too much and, thus, all of the girls in little black dresses now seem to mesh into one. No problem … Jennie’s got pictures of her whole life proudly displayed to refresh your recollection.

After two minutes in the photo gallery, you now know where Jennie went to camp (what a cute kid she was!), what her mother looks like (good genes) and that she’s got some cute friends (if you’re the typical NY guy, you’d probably be wondering if you can hit on them too or would that be wrong?). Pre-Facebook, it might have taken a few dates to see what Jennie looks like in bikini, but now there’s the glamour shot from her last Caribbean sailing trip posted for everyone’s viewing pleasure. Jennie’s got a nice body - friend request accepted. Now you can see where Jennie’s headed to next based on her miniature calendar status, and stalk her (whoops, I mean conveniently also go there).

That’s a glimpse into the positive side of pictures. On the other hand, after seeing a few pictures of another prospective love interest, you may be tempted to click the "ignore" prompt … or at least hit “accept” knowing that this one’s not going anywhere. For example, one guy I know has picture after picture of him consuming beers, partying like a rockstar and looking two sheets to the wind in all of them. He’s in his late 40s and single. Good dating material? Doubtful. Same red flags start waving with the guy whose pictures show him cavorting with girls half his age and groping all of them – unless, of course, you’re looking for that kind of thing.

In fact, it occurred to me the other day that anyone who is engaged in on-line dating should take advantage of Facebook as their backup detective service. That’s where you get the real information. On a purely, superficial note, if you’re a guy fed up with women who post only head shots and who put “petite” as their body type simply because they’re under 5’3”, there is a high probability that if you check on Facebook “JenG73” will have more than enough body shots posted for you to get a true sense of her real physique. Same goes for the women. When “Steve45Esq” is telling you he’s 5’11” and his Facebook profile shows him at a fundraiser standing shoulder to shoulder with Mayor Bloomberg (who’s only 5’8” by the way) you can then assess whether you feel like sharing a mocha latte on Tuesday with someone who’s clearly insecure about his height (and probably lying about his age too).

Of course, you can also get a real sense of what a person’s about reading his or her status updates, looking at his/her friends, reading what people write on this person’s wall, checking out his/her groups and causes ... remember, detective not stalker… God, there’s so much to say on this one, this is just the tip of the iceberg…

* For the non-lawyers out there, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), passed in 1966, is an act which allows for members of the general public to request and obtain (with restrictions) otherwise undisclosed information about government agencies.

** For those who may not know, Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004 (along with fellow computer science major students and Zuckerberg’s roommates Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes) while Zuckerberg was a student at Harvard.

***Of course, there are seemingly endless items to evaluate on the topic of Facebook and what insights a person's profile/status updates convey about him or her but remember this is only "Facebook FOIA Part I." And, of course, there's also Facebook "dating protocol" which I also intend to address in a future blog.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Golden Rule

We’ve all been there … you go on a date, have a decent time but nothing to write home about. The other person, though, somehow felt the sparks that eluded you and is reliably calling/emailing/texting ready to line up round 2. You’re positive there’s no interest and have no intention of going out again and yet, the thought of sharing this simple sentiment with the other part of the equation seems too awkward/burdensome/time consuming a task … so you simply decide to ignore the continued overtures from this person until he/she gets the hint.

Despite New Yorkers’ reputation for being callous individuals with no time to help little old ladies cross the street, we all like to think of ourselves as decent people, with good manners, who treat others well and who, generally, do the “right” thing. Yet, for some reason, when it comes to dating many otherwise stand-up, thoughtful people take the path of least resistance … and, typically, the path of least integrity.

So the question must be asked, what does one owe another after a first date? Anything?? Is it completely acceptable to simply ignore a phone call/text message/email from the person with whom, only two nights prior, you shared stories of your world wide travels, athletic endeavors and career aspirations? Or … is some basic human response (even perfunctory) owed to the person who had the good taste to enjoy your company and is merely trying to see you again.

Of course, it’s easiest not to respond until you simply fade into oblivion in that person's memory. And it’s crystal clear (at least to most sane people) that by not responding to the other party’s communications, you’ve responded.* Indeed, everyone knows that because so many people go this route one won’t really be considered an [insert explicative of choice here] by the rejected party. Many would even argue that pulling the Houdini act is the more charitable course of action - why make someone feel bad with the “you’re a great girl/guy, just not for me” line – it’s so transparent after all. If the person thought you were so great, chances are they’d want to go out again.

But think about the flip side for a moment. The other day a good friend shared a story with me that made me think about the value of common courtesy. A few weeks back my friend asked out a fun, sexy woman he met at a charity event. They finally got together and he had a great time (and was unquestionably attracted to her). His read of the date was that she felt the same way. When he called her to arrange a second date, however, he learned that she was not interested in going out again. As the blond siren explained to my friend, she had a fun time on their date but she had her hands full with an ex and someone else new in the picture. My friend – who has an active dating life - was grateful for the no-nonsense response and moved on. Whether or not what she said was even true is almost besides the point – the fact is that she had the maturity (far more at 25 in fact than many men and women at 45) and decency to answer the phone, have a conversation and politely explain that she was not interested in anything romantic. If you believe in good dating karma, this girl will definitely be reaping its benefits.

For those who may be reading this thinking “why do I need to have a conversation with someone I barely know and went out with once,” I refer you to the title of this blog.** Remind yourself of the instance (there has to have been one) where you were the person whose text/email/call was ignored. Yes, we all survive it and take our lumps but in the end wouldn’t you have preferred a little more respectful treatment? There is much to be gained by asking the simple question – how would I feel if someone pulled this on me?

One can certainly take this question to the next level and ask whether communication is “owed” after every first date under every circumstance. A reader responding to one of my blogs wrote of his belief that a follow-up email/call after a date is always warranted – something along the lines of “I had a nice time with you but I don’t think there’s chemistry.” There are undeniably pros and cons to be said for this approach. Some men and women will appreciate the follow-up and candor. But one also runs the risk of arousing a strong negative reaction … maybe something along the lines of “hey bozo, get over yourself - I wasn’t feeling it either. There’s no need to state the obvious.”

Which brings to mind “The Platinum Rule” which suggests that not everyone has the same tastes and therefore people should “do unto others, whenever possible, as they want to be done by." Oh, this gets complicated …

*Anyone who’s ever tried online dating has likely come across those people who send a mass produced message and tack in at the end “even if you’re not interested, please send me a response letting me know.” You have to imagine that these individuals were clearly crushed by the advent of caller ID.

** The Golden Rule, also known as the ethic of reciprocity, is an ethical code that states one has a right to just treatment (i.e. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Luke 6:31). The Golden Rule was apparently also a common principal in ancient Greek philosophy ("Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him." – Pittacus).