I apparently know a lot of bisexuals.


I have recently been trying out Facebook’s new Graph Search and perusing the various websites and articles talking about the privacy  and abuse concerns.  After playing around with it by searching various things (“my conservative friends” – 0 hits, “my republican friends” – 1 hit, “my liberal friends” – 91 hits, “my friends that like ice cream” – 9 hits) I started wondering what my ratio of gay to straight friends was. I have long felt that we all naturally gravitate towards people more like us or away from those not like ourselves (see “my republican friends” search above for an exclusionary example), but I always hope to have a greater balance of different influences in my life that I actually have, so it is interesting to try to take stock in various ways.

I began searching “my female friends interested in men” which yielded 18 results, then “my female friends interested in women”  which yielded 3 results (all three were included in the prior search, so one assumes bisexual perhaps – more on this later). “My female friends” yielded 118 total.

On to the men, I started with “my gay male friends” which Facebook changed to  “my male friends interested in men” and that yielded 85 results, followed by “my male friends” which yielded  147 results.

What is interesting is that if I add up my female and male friends (as identifiable in Facebook search) I get a total of  265, far short of the  593 friends I have on Facebook  What this means is that the rest of the people have either declined to state their sex, are intersexed (a subsequent check shows that Facebook does not even allow setting this), or set their privacy controls to prevent searching this information.

When I put in “my straight male friends interested in women” which Facebook changed to “my male friends interested in women” I got a total of 40 results, but only 14 of those were from guys I know as straight. The rest were from guys that I identify as gay (from various social interactions with them). Each of them listed “interested in males and females”, which I suppose has several possible ways to interpret:

1. Although “interested in” nominally means for romantic/sexual purposes, it can also be construed to mean friendship and general interest. So perhaps the guys putting this in were using these other meanings.

2. It could be that with the continued existence of homophobia in several parts of the world (and self loathing around the exclusively gay label), some of these people felt it was a little more safe to claim to be interested romantically in women, though they are not.

3. Some of these people are truly self-identified as bisexual (whether they act on it or not).

On the flip side, it was interesting to note that of the 14 men I have always identified as straight, I was surprised that three of them listed “interested in males and females” (for reasons 1 or 3 above, or in the inverse of 2, to seem more hip and cool than they actually are).

Obviously, even within the subset of my friends who can be identified by gender, many decline to state their interest in either sex. Although a number of them may truly be asexual, the majority probably see this as something private they need not share. Or I suppose they could be married or otherwise coupled and not looking for any romantic attachment, thus declining to state for that reason.

I have some ambivalence about Facebook’s new search, even as I think it is technologically cool. Time will tell if these tools open us up to still more misuse and abuse of our information, and what “privacy” means in an increasingly interconnected world.


All your dates are belong to us


File this under creepy. Where to begin? We all know the world is getting smaller, and privacy is harder and harder to control, especially on the internet. It doesn’t help that every time Facebook makes some site change they seem to erase all your carefully setup controls and start sharing everything with everyone. And oftentimes, our conception of privacy is not about certain information being public, it is more about the ease of accessing that information. It would definitely have been possible in a previous age to gather a bunch of personal information about someone with a trip to the county courthouse, but who other than some rich asshole going to the expense of hiring a private detective would have bothered?

So I guess just file this under one more chip in the wall: With the recent release of ios6 and Mountain Lion, one can now easily link one’s Facebook account to one’s contacts, and pull all info from Facebook into these contacts. While at first glance this doesn’t seem like a big deal, I have discovered a few areas where it is a little disturbing. Case in point: people in my contacts for whom I only have phone numbers, many times without a last name. Why would I have such numbers littering my contacts? These might be people I met randomly at a party or professional function, or online and exchanged just the minimal amount of information necessary. They might have been to call later about a website or other work, or more likely to set up a coffee or dinner date. And my contacts list (and most people’s I would wager) are littered with these past partial contacts that we rarely if ever get around to cleaning out.

Here is where it gets interesting. I noticed after linking my contacts, that a bunch of extra information was pulled down for these contacts. Info that I never had before, based on nothing other than the phone number. So suddenly I had profile pics and last names and some other info for these people. I hadn’t realized this before, but according to one’s privacy settings (those again!) on Facebook  if your phone number is in there, you can actually be found right on the Facebook website, just by entering that number as a search. No name or email even required. So I spent part of the morning revisiting my past dating life, learning things about these people that was not shared with me previously, and in most cases deleting these entries from my contacts.

If I were you, I would go into your Facebook privacy settings right now (and perhaps once a week given the capriciousness of Facebook tweaking) and make sure what is shared is what you want to be shared. Or just let it be. We are clearly headed for a Borg-like future anyway.

The golden era of stalking


A week or so ago, friends of mine and I were out at a restaurant enjoying a great meal. Our waiter was quite a handsome fellow, and there was a bit of flirting and eye contact going on between us throughout the meal. A few days later, a complimentary comment was left on my blog by this same waiter. At first I didn’t know it was him, but a little sleuthing and clues from the comment let me to that conclusion. I emailed him back and we learned a little about each other over several emails exchanged. Looking into my weblogs for clues as to how he found me, I noticed that his path through the site started with a google search on my full name. I quickly realized that he must have copied that name from the credit card receipt, plugged it into a search engine, and my blog was the first entry that came up.

My friends are divided as to whether this constitutes stalking behavior. I don’t think so, although direct contact would have been considered so in a previous era. This gets back to an issue I have explored in the past relating to the ease of information access on the internet. In a previous era, if someone I had flirted with in a restaurant had wanted to find me, they first would have had to get my name somehow. Credit cards in restaurants were in much less use. Assuming they could find my name, they would then need to consult the phone books (of several boroughs in New York) to find my information. If I wasn’t listed or didn’t have a phone in my name, their last hopes would involve placing a “missed connections” ad in a publication like the Village Voice, or going down to the public records office looking for a needle in a haystack to search for my name in any of various indexes.  THAT would definitely qualify as stalking.

But as information becomes easier and easier to access, the effort expended to track someone is ridiculously small and insignificant. And someone like me that maintains a public blog generally wants to be found, intentionally or not. I would argue that the current and real definition of stalking must be something far more menacing than a 5 second google search. Who among us hasn’t googled for information before going on an interview or a date? Who doesn’t look up old friends and acquaintances on facebook and the like? In a modern society, we are constantly trading our privacy for convenience, whether it be in the use of credit cards, online banking, social networking sites, what-have-you. Implicit in our acceptance of the convenience of modern life is the erosion of what used to be considered “private”. We like to feel that we have some measure of control, but as soon as we accept the trappings of modern life, we accept this loss of the possibility of anonymity to a greater or lesser degree. If we feel that stocking up on canned goods and moving to a small cabin in the mountains is an option, we had better be prepared to live in a culture of oneself, cut off from the world.

I am not in any way arguing that our loss of privacy is a good thing. In many ways it is a very bad thing. Who likes the idea of companies (or the government) tracking our spending habits and online (or offline) activity. This information can and has been abused. But the only thing we can really do as a society is to try to protect against the misuse of this information as much as possible, by enacting legislation and trying to set our own personal example in the respect of others’ privacy. Of course, each of us has a different threshold for what we consider trespassing, and it is almost impossible to know what the boundaries are. Generally speaking, it seems the younger the person, the less concerned with privacy in the traditional sense, since they have grown up in the world with the Internet always present in their lives.

In the long run, we are inevitably headed (for better or worse) towards a situation of less and less privacy, to the point of being able to know each other’s thoughts and deepest desires on a whim.  There will be both cultural and technological changes that will permit this to happen.We already have scientific proof of concept all around us. Our culture will undergo massive, sustained, but barely noticed upheaval as we move towards a collective mind. There will be many small steps along the way, but ultimately we are headed for something not terribly unlike the Borg in old Star Trek episodes. Americans in particular shutter at a loss of individuality, perceived as it is at the center of our culture. But for convenience sake, we will all go quite willingly. And like most things, these changes cannot be said to be all good or all bad. Still, it would be nice if we decided, individually or as a culture, to explore these issues as they are happening, rather than just waking up one day to the realization.

Privacy and habits


A simple question for all of you (perhaps this should be a poll, but I think written responses could be quite interesting):

When you are alone in a house or apartment (yours or someone else’s) and you go into the bathroom (to relieve yourself or bathe), do you close the door (and/or lock it) or leave it open?