Pointless posts, privacy and party lines.

Ah, remember the joy of rotary dialing?
img courtesy danjaeger on sxc.hu

When I was a kid, my mom had daily conversations with her best friends, Patsy and Sharon. Once my grandma moved to “local call” range, she called her every day as well.

My mom was a homemaker.  Even she considered her life boring. But every day, she recounted her domestic adventures to her friends, and they told her what was going on in their world.

When I was a little kid, everyone in the small town in Kentucky that my family is from were on party lines.  I think my family was on one as well, when I was very small.

Does anyone here remember what a party line even is?

No, I am not talking about one of those “Talk to Singles in Your Area!” numbers that get a lot of advertisement on late night television.  I’m talking about a situation where you share a phone line with other customers, in exchange for a cheaper monthly bill.

Think of it like a “family share” plan on a cellular phone, except (A) you don’t get to pick the other people in your “family” and (B) only one of you can use the phone at a time.

Well, more accurately, you can only have one call on the line at a time. Any or all of the people on the party line were free to join in on the call.  That’s right; your nosy neighbor could quietly pick up her phone, and listen to your conversation with your husband.  Free entertainment for the whole neighborhood!

I’ve been thinking about these things a lot lately as I hear people complain about Facebook.

The first complaint is the “I don’t want to hear about what you had for lunch” complaint. In other words, people are complaining, often and loudly, that their Friends® are sharing trivial moments of their day, on a site built for… sharing trivial moments in your day?

If you want a pure stream of only highly relevant and newsworthy content, they make something for that. It’s called a newspaper. Or an RSS reader. Or one of a thousand tools, media or publications made to fill that need.

Stop complaining that Facebook lacks editorial standards. You’re the editor, dimwit.

The other complaint is “I worry about how much my privacy is compromised by what I put on Facebook.”

I have a few thoughts on this. First, it is mostly “what you put on Facebook.”  Don’t put things on there if you’re concerned about who will see it.

Yes, people can tag you in photos, but guess what? You can remove the tags. Also, the tag or lack thereof isn’t really the problem if there’s a photo floating around of you doing something you shouldn’t be, or being somewhere you shouldn’t be, or any combination of the two, in the hands of someone who thinks it’d be funny to share it with as many people as possible.

That is a problem that preexisted Zuckerberg’s nifty little website.

Those are my grumpy old fogey responses to the complaints.

But I also have a softer, more compassionate response. It’s born out of the memories I have of my mom telling Patsy or Sharon or my grandma what she picked up at Thrifway; or having to wait patiently to make a call at my grandma’s house because someone else was using the party line.  I think this other response has to do with what I’m learning about community.  Community has become a buzzword. It sounds all “let’s hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya.'”  The word community has gained the warm glow of a bullcrap halo, or the saccharin buzz of artificial sweetness.

there's a fine line between friendship and annoyance
img courtesy bigevil600 on sxc

But the reality of community is that it’s often not idealistic or warm and glowing; it’s messy and annoying.

People overshare. The oversharing isn’t about you. Maybe they don’t Facebook, or Tweet, or blog, for your personal entertainment and edification. Maybe for them, it’s the equivalent of talking to yourself during the commute. Maybe they’re just trying to figure out where their day went. Or how it went so badly off course.

Maybe they feel uninteresting, or alone, or voiceless, and they’re putting out all that ephemera just to see if someone reacts to their presence.  Maybe it’s just a constant blip of a signal beacon saying “I’m here. I’m here. I’m here… please say something back.”

I don’t think my mom thought her friends really needed to know that she got eggs at a really good price. I think she just wanted them to know “I think about you every day.”

People are nosy. It’s an annoying habit, but it often actually works out in your favor.  It’s always the annoying nosy neighbor that first reports that your house is being broken into, or calls the police when they can hear a fight getting out of hand.  Even if they’re mainly looking for gossip fodder, you’d still rather someone see and react to a dangerous situation than not.

People who love you are often nosy because they care. This doesn’t always make it less annoying when they’re digging at us for a more thorough answer to “How have you been?” than “Fine.”

There are bad people out there who are nosy with ill intent.  As scary as that is, your best defense is to surround yourself with people who are nosy because they love you.

We talk about filters, but I don’t think we want filters. We want someone or something else to edit our life into a movie.

Turn off the boring parts, and skip straight to the juicy stuff.

I think maybe sometimes we’re failing to recognize the juice in the stuff we want to toss onto the editing room floor.


  1. ·

    My great grandmother had a party line and we would LOVE to snoop when we visited…we couldn’t believe that you could hear other peoples conversations…I guess we were more city than we thought!

    “I think maybe sometimes we’re failing to recognize the juice in the stuff we want to toss onto the editing room floor.” One of my facebook friends posted a video that he found of his relatives, all dead now singing hymns on the back porch. The video camera was sitting on a side table and their heads were cut off and you could only see the knee of his uncle…he mentioned that these days THIS video would have been deleted with out a thought…and now, it is one of his most precious memories.

    Great post, thanks!

  2. Kat French

    Glad to know I wasn’t the only kid guilty of “party line snooping” back in the day.

    Privacy: a fragile and necessary illusion. 😉

    We have some video of my wedding and of a Christmas from a few years back that I keep meaning to convert to digital files. Thanks for the reminder!


  3. ·

    Ahhh, the nostalgia of party lines, phone booths and dialing “0” for an actual human being (known as an “operator”) if there was an emergency or you wanted to check on someone who’s line had been busy for three hours straight.

    It’s true. People are nosy. So are the companies that want to sell us their product whether it’s the most expensive luxury auto or the latest eBook on how to “Make Massive Income” on the Internet. But, we let them look…and listen.

    Privacy, as most people think about it, is an illusion on the Internet. It’s just that social media venues like Facebook are breaking down the illusion. As a Facebook friend (and someone I know IRL) once e-mailed to me, “We have become a nation of voyeurs”.

    Having said that, it does connect people who would not otherwise be connected and expose people to ideas, writing, art or whatever that they may not have otherwise known existed.

    BTW, didn’t your mama tell you it wasn’t polite to listen in on other people’s phone conversations! 🙂


  4. ·


    Hello. I came across your blog while clicking around google. Good stuff. I look forward to reading it in the future.

    I hope you don’t mind, but I wanted to tell you about my blog.

    I’m looking for sane christian readers, i.e. thinking, non-ideologues with a sense of humor. My blog is entitled “Musings of a Hard-Lining Moderate: The assorted thoughts of an evangelical Anglican.” I write about theology, history, philosophy, politics, book/movie reviews, sports, pet theories… whatever is on my mind.

    Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/dXh2qd.

    Would you mind taking a look and consider adding it to one of your blogrolls? I’m an aspiring author and am really trying to increase my readership. Obviously it’s your site and your decision, so it won’t bother me if you decline.

    Thanks for your time.

    Grace & Peace,


  5. KatFrench

    Carson – Just caught this comment (been out of town for work this week). I’d be happy to check out your blog. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!


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