Relationships and the Internet – 9 – A Guidebook to Internet Use Self-Assessment

For our purposes in these essays, I’ll define relationships to you as encompassing people who know you, or know of you and can influence aspects of relationships that are important to you. You might find it useful to graph your relationships on a 2X2, with one axis representing increasing importance of a relationship to you, and the other axis representing your level of overt efforts to influence that particular relationship – either directly or indirectly. This process of discovery as you determine which relationships matter and why is, depending up the complexity of your situation, one of the more important and perhaps difficult you can perform. There are lots of articles out there discussing relationships, connectedness and things like degrees of separation.  I encourage you to seek them out as they are interesting and sometimes relevant to this discussion. Remember that you do not need to have intentional or direct contact with someone to have a relationship with them, and even these indirect relationships can be quite important to you.

If you are closely managing your relationships, this probably means that you are actively trying to influence people to think what you want them to think about you and their relationship with you. This can be quite complex, and can involve understanding not only the relationship you are trying to influence, but the relationships that person has with others that will influence how they view their relationship with you. Recall in an earlier post that “I went out on a limb just a bit” and made the following statement:

“I submit to you that all of the good things and all of the bad things” that happen to us “in this world happen to us because we are social.”

For purposes of this particular portion of the the discussion, I should probably replace “because we are social” with “because of or as a result of our relationships.”  Relationships are central and crucial, whether we recognize/admit it or not.

I’m making the argument that the central discussion of Internet Use, then, is about how it affects your relationships and how it helps or hinders you from getting what you need and avoiding what will harm you. If you are able, please consider your relationships with, and then without the Internet. Please consider and answer the following poll:

Since you found this series of essays, you are probably at least somewhat familiar with the Internet. You likely know that regardless of whether or not you use the technology, there will be things about you here. Public records are available – some freely and some for the determined among us. There may be things mentioned about you by friends, relatives, enemies, news organizations, volunteer organizations, etc. You might put your head in the sand and ignore it, but the fact is that there are likely things here about you. Effort you put into understanding what is said about you – with and without the Internet – and that you put in to managing how that information affects your relationships can pay dividends for you (if you are at least somewhat adept). Unless you are a hermit – which you can’t be if you are reading this – you are busily affecting the relationships others possess and may be trying to manage (By the way, please feel free to affect my relationships by clicking “Like” on these essays and making (hopefully nice) comments!).

While arguable, I believe that the most significant impact of the Internet on relationships and knowledge is to accelerate the process of acquiring information (as an Engineer, I could argue that this in the ONLY direct impact, and the rest is consequential). For the most part, the information made available about people on the Internet is something that, with time and persistence, could have been acquired elsewhere. I say could have been. I don’t say would have been. The time compression concept is a game changer in many ways. Just like digital photography is creating an explosion of (digital) photographs, the Internet has created an explosion in the availability of information – some of it about you, and some of which would have never been “said” without the Internet. In fact, the internet seems to encourage people to say things that perhaps should never have been said. And what is said might be true, half true, or complete fabrication from any given source at any given time.

At a fairly basic level, what this means to your relationships is:

  • Significantly more opportunity for indirect relationships
  • More opportunity for relationships in general
  • Many more sources of problems and solutions
  • Things that are said, with or without attribution, that can be very difficult if not impossible to control and can gain exposure to a wide audience very quickly
  • More opportunities to occupy time that causes you to withdraw from important relationships
  • Possibly spending too much time passively checking “things” and not enough time spent on active relationship planning and implementation of those plans
  • Exposure of enough (sometimes seemingly unimportant) information to give “Bad Actors” what they need to cause you harm

The list can go on.

A bit more discussion of Bad Actors is likely worthwhile. It is possible to underestimate this problem just as it is possible to overestimate it. Public records provide lots of revealing information. Some localities protect this sort of thing more than others, but in many places I can figure out your home value for tax purposes (along with your address), and pretty good estimate of your home’s market value, contact information, and if I’m persistent enough, a whole lot more. Recall, though, that this information was already available – the Internet simply makes if faster and perhaps simpler to access it. Unless our government legislates more privacy on the Internet, there is likely not much you are going to be able to do about this issue. Remember – this is PUBLIC INFORMATION. You can try if you like. In my opinion, it is likely better to know what is said about you, and protect yourself much as you would without the internet. Be VERY private with your social security numbers, credit card numbers, driver’s license numbers, etc. When banks ask you to use your mother’s maiden name or brother’s middle name or anything like that, you might do well to have a secret response to this type of question rather than using the actual information since these things are discoverable. Be very cautious about using publicly available wifi for internet access. Don’t use a financial service that isn’t https – the “s” at the end tells you it is an encrypted service and it is very difficult for anyone to determine what is being communicated between you and the service in that case. If you are on a public wifi and using http (not https), it is possible for someone skilled and also on the same network to see what you are doing and even access the service you are using and pretend to be you. They likely won’t be able to change/access your passwords, etc., but they would be able to change information you post, and likely be able to see things about you that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. The probabilities are at least somewhat in your favor on this, but be aware that bad actors are out there and be as prudent as you are able to be. You should also be very careful about sharing settings on your computer when using this type of network. Since the information people can get about you can be very timely, you will want to consider that giving someone your location in a Tweet or Facebook entry can give a Bad Actor information that will help him/her cause you harm. This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive treatment of computer security. Just recall that as in your non-Internet life, you are certainly no less vulnerable in your Internet life and in some ways likely more so. Share on the Internet only what you are willing to share in your non-Internet life, and know that you run a higher risk of reaching an unintended audience than you would without the Internet. If you have questions about this topic, please feel free to ask them in comments.  I can not assure you an answer, but will try to at least help you in your research on the topic.  Just keep in mind that people are more likely to find information that has been shared about you by you and others, and the information they find about you has a better chance to be timely information.


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