Shhh.. my secret's gone global

Shhh.. my secret's gone global

Can you keep a secret? Neither can I, what with Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and various other social media instantly communicating information I would much rather have kept under wraps.

Trapped in a web of tight online connections, I am forced into full disclosure even when keeping mum would be in the best interests of all concerned.

Last week, for example, when my out-of-town father called home, I did my best not to bring up the chaos in Little India, knowing it would only disturb him and take his mind off work.

I shouldn't have bothered. He was calling to check on us, having already been alerted through Facebook updates - not mine or my family's - and a helpful e-mail from a friend watching the news in India.

One cannot, and should not, keep a lid on breaking news, of course, but what about that endangered event, the surprise party? Five years ago, I felt very proud when the friend whose birthday it was said, before her cake was brought out: "What a coincidence, running into all of my best friends at this restaurant today."

Last year? Some brilliant mind posted on Facebook: "So what are we doing for R's birthday?", and the automatic tagging feature of the social media site meant that R was immediately alerted to the post.

And the desire of sites such as Book Depository and Amazon to be useful means that shopping for surprise presents online is a problem if the birthday boy or girl logs on to the computer next. He or she will be immediately inundated with ads for the very item you were hoping to gift - and in the case of Book Depository's live shopping update, informed not only what "someone in Singapore" just bought, but also when.

Some things deserve to be kept secret and others do not need to be dragged into the light of day. Why should an app I use to organise my music playlists want to update social media sites on what I am listening to? It's not like my friends and family are dying to adopt my tastes, or did I misunderstand statements such as: "Why do you always listen to such depressing minor key music?" or "I have some REAL rock music here, you should try it some time."

I reserve a special degree of loathing for G+, or Google's sharing utility, Circles, where the default setting is over-share. If I hadn't been quick on the button a few weeks ago, a teasing picture shot on my cellphone of my mother mid-haircut would have been sent to several colleagues and work contacts, not just my father and brother, and I would currently be occupying a mattress on some kind friend's floor.

The worst culprit in this phenomenon of forced disclosure is Facebook, which keeps contacts informed of your location and speculates on your interests, based on the links you click.

Facebook has also weaselled its way into multiple social utilities, insisting on uniting parts of my life I would much rather keep separate. I enjoy using Meetup, the online site that lets users meet people with similar interests for one-off or long-term activities. It broadens my social circle and lets me try out things I might be hesitant to do otherwise.

But like many other online utilities, Meetup now lets users sign in through Facebook. This means when I inadvertently booked new dance classes through Facebook, rather than my separate Meetup account, the auto-post feature meant my family and friends on Facebook found out that I, the possessor of two left feet, was seeking treatment for rhythm deficit disorder. My aunts were encouraging - "Keep it up, child!" - but I suspect my cousins tried to sell tickets for the show.

The Internet is not only monitoring the present, waiting for material to mock, but it is also a time machine just waiting to turn back the clock to embarrassment hour. Photographs deleted from my camera and hard drive resurface on friends' Facebook, Dropbox and Flickr accounts. The default facial recognition features tag me and my familiars so we can gaze on images of my contorted, yawning face for posterity.

The only comfort to be found in the glare of the Internet spotlight is that there are millions of us sharing the same global stage, spilling our secrets in one overpowering flood of information. Barack Obama's selfie or the latest Kardashian kerfluffle take precedence over my little secrets - and if they don't, Facebook knows just where to unearth your worst moments too.

But that will be our little mutual secret, yes?


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