Google Plus isn’t the new Facebook. It’s the grown-up Facebook. Perhaps this makes it the anti-Facebook.
In one of Google’s informative videos for it, someone says in a level, reasonable voice, “I have lots to share, but I don’t want to share everything with everyone.” Then she adds, “I don’t want to see everyone’s updates all the time.”
What? Where has she been all this time? These days, I will gladly share my medical and dental records and remarks about the state of the economy and a peculiar thing that occured to me in the shower with anyone who asks, undiscriminatingly. Some blame my upbringing. I blame Facebook.It has made this kind of oversharing not only accepted but standard.
Not tell everyone everything all the time? This sounds terrifyingly mature.
This makes me a little nervous. Nothing makes me more terrified than the sense that the technology boat is leaving and I am not on it. I spend a great deal of time crouching outside middle schools waiting for students to emerge. “The trends!” I scream, grabbing them by the backpacks. “Tell me the online trends!” My range of movement these days is somewhat limited by the ankle bracelet, but I still do what I can. (Sometimes I pose as a tween in online chatrooms, just to stay in practice. It turns out that the only people actually in chatrooms these days are pedophiles.)
Every so often I will learn of a Trend and email my friends about it. This, I hear, dates me, or so the “New York Times” trends writers claim. Apparently, the Youth These Days no longer email. They prefer to text, because you can begin a text with “Yo” without the interface judging you. Facebook is making a concerted effort to appeal to the bunch who don’t email but text. “Email takes too many words,” they say. “And you have to use complete sentences. Please! You don’t even have complete thoughts.”
So when Google makes a network that I actively want to join, I become terrified. Is this my Rubicon? Have I — grown up?
After all, the social network problem is the party problem: “Who’s going to be there?” This question was once rude. Now it’s basic. What will Google Plus’s answer to the question be?
Facebook’s is “Everyone.” This can present challenges. Everyone includes “Your Parents, Your Grandparents, and The Parents of People You Knew in Grade School, and also Some Guy You Met At a Networking Evening And Forgot To Give A Fake Name To.” “They are all your Friends now,” Facebook says. “And Friends share everything.”
Google Plus wants to put a stop to this. It gives us the option of compartmentalizing our friends using something called Google Circles.
In life, compartmentalizing my friends is my only hobby. I find it bracing. It is like knitting, but with more judgment. Google Plus seeks to combine my hobby of compartmentalizing my friends with my hobby of watching ingenious HTML 5 animations, allowing me to drag everyone I have ever met into a series of circles. This is a contrast to Facebooks’s policy of the undiscriminating overshare – yes, they allow you to nestle your friends into groups, but the culture was built on equating Strange Men From Comedy Clubs with Bosom Companions Of Years’ Standing.
Now Google Plus will let you create groups for the two, and the circle names are visible only to you. This is reassuring yet terrifying. “Jeff has added you as a friend on Facebook” says one thing. “Carl has added you to his Circle on Google+,” may say another. “What circle?” you demand anxiously. “Friends? Colleagues? Acquaintances? Awkward One Night Stands? People Who Make Funny Arm Movements When They Talk? Does that one get sent messages often?”
It comes back to the online party problem: It doesn’t matter how big the party is; it matters who will be there. And it has long been an unspoken law of the Internet that any online system that assumes people are capable of acting like mature adults is doomed to fail.
A network based on the premise that everyone does not want to hear everything all the time? “Are you crazy, Google?” we ask. “What do you think we are? Grown-ups?”