Belmont Club

Only the Loners

In the Silver Blaze, Sherlock Holmes made an classic deduction about the absence of a fact.

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

German psychologists, extending this line of reasoning in dubious ways have warned that people who do nothing on Facebook should attract our curiosity.

Facebook has become such a pervasive force in modern society that increasing numbers of employers, and even some psychologists, believe people who aren’t on social networking sites are ‘suspicious.’

The German magazine Der Taggspiegel went so far as to point out that accused theater shooter James Holmes and Norwegian mass murder Anders Behring Breivik have common ground in their lack of Facebook profiles.

To that list of miscreants they are probably going to add Wade Page, the suspect of the Sikh temple shooting. CBS says he gave no clue of what he was up to on social media. “A day after the shooting, fragments of Page’s life emerged in public records and interviews. But his motive was still largely a mystery. He left no hate-filled manifesto, no angry blog or ranting Facebook entries to explain the attack.”

In a 2010 interview, Page told a white supremacist website that he became active in white-power music in 2000, when he left his native Colorado and started the band End Apathy in 2005.

He told the website his inspiration was “based on frustration that we have the potential to accomplish so much more as individuals and a society in whole,” according to the law center. He did not mention violence.

That makes it more sinister. It might have been better if he ranted. James Homes had the foresight to unburden his troubles to his shrink. At least he can claim insanity. But a person without a Facebook or Twitter rant, like Murphy, comes off as being deliberately treacherous. Today the ideal person should be a known quantity: someone with a well-established and consistent online reputation. Any other sort of person is in the digital shadow and must be up to no good.

It used to be the case that the word reputation meant the collective esteem in which a person was held by those who had met them.  People knew you. Remembered you as a kid,  recalled how you had zits in high school, or about how got your first job. Today there are thousands of personalities about whom no one knows nothing about in person. And yet these people are celebrities, with hundreds or thousands of online friends. In such a world “reputation” can acquire different meaning.

Arthur Clarke once wrote that “if man survives for as long as the least successful of the dinosaurs—those creatures whom we often deride as nature’s failures—then we may be certain of this: for all but a vanishingly brief instant near the dawn of history, the word ‘ship’ will mean— ‘spaceship.'”

But if ‘ship’ will mean ‘spaceship’, man has at all events survived long enough for ‘reputation’ to mean to all intents and purposes ‘an online reputation’.  Damage your online reputation, like the unfortunate Adam Smith, who posted a stupid YouTube video of himself bullying a Chick-fil-A fast food worker at a drive through and you’re finished. Kaput.  History.

Once a CFO, Smith will be glad to get a job working as a detailer at a car wash.  To even get that, he’ll probably have to take down every trace of himself online. But that creates another problem.  If he succeeds he’ll be the ultimate suspicious character, the man without a Facebook account. The Daily Mail describes how vital that is to getting a job these days.

On a more tangible level, Forbes.com reports that human resources departments across the country are becoming more wary of young job candidates who don’t use the site.

You can just hear the interview. “So Mr. Adam Smith where’s your Linked In and Facebook accounts? None do you say? Do you mean a man of your age could have reached maturity without having a single damned posting, Tweet or profile online. Come, come, Mr. Smith, we know better than that. What have you got to hide?”

That’s to say they would prefer to look at applicants on whom they can do a background investigation by perusing Facebook. HR departments, like everyone else, want more data to reduce the risk of a hiring decision. Without an online reputation to check against they might actually have to do something drastic, like make a call to his references or talk to people who knew the applicant.

Probably the worst aspect of this new expectation is that everyone is now required to live at least part of his life under the online microscope. To get the job, to get a clearance — to keep from being typed as a ‘loner’, we need to voluntarily give up our privacy to establish our bona fides. We need to be on Facebook, have a Twitter account; you know — be normal.

The only exception to this rule appears to be Barack Obama. Everyone else, however exalted is subject to the new rule.

When Piers Morgan interviwed Juliana Margulies, the star of the TV series, “The Good Wife” on his talk show he was astonished that she had no time for Twitter. What kind of person didn’t even have a half-hour for Twitter? Margulies answered that she was a mother.

MORGAN: Do you like Twitter, because you’re not on Twitter. You’re very much, you said, an e-mail and text person.

MARGULIES: I e-mail and text.

MORGAN: Why don’t you like the whole social network thing.

MARGULIES: It’s not that I don’t like it. I — I just, honestly, I’m a mother of a 3-1/2-year-old with a full-time job five days a week, 14 hours a day. I don’t have time.

MORGAN: You’ve got another half an hour a day (INAUDIBLE).

MARGULIES: I have no time — I don’t know how people have time.

She’s off the hook for now. But next time it might be different. People who don’t show up online are becoming like the dog that didn’t bark in the night. Something damned strange about it, what my Dear Watson?

And the last word on the lonely by someone who didn’t have Facebook account.


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