Is social media replacing our personal lives?

Yesterday afternoon, went down for just over 2 hours – during which time swarms of Twitter-junkies tweeted, re-tweeted, followed, hash-tagged, complained, replied, bitched, moaned, OMG’d, OMFG’s, FML’d and whatever else they could think of all because they could not get their profile-stalking fix.

Today, Yahoo! posted a video – front and center on its homepage – with a headline that read “Facebook CEO’s private life revealed”. The video link itself was actually a clip from a recent “Oprah” taping in which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a $100 million donation to Newark public schools because, as he put it “Every child deserves an education.”

And yet, that wasn’t the headline. Apparently, the marketing-whiz content managers decided to go with the tabloid-style shout out instead.

Which I suppose makes sense(?), since the movie about Zuckerberg’s rise to power, The Social Network by acclaimed director David Fincher (and featuring everyone’s favorite former N-Sync member Justin Timberlake), is due out in theaters any day now (I don’t care enough to look up the date – it may be playing right now for all I know) – in which apparently, according to the trailers that play every five minutes on TV is an inside-peek inside the life of this seemingly recluse, socially-deviant genius.

I would much rather learn about Zuckerberg’s Oprah-applauded, commendable contribution to society than gossip over his love life. Let his personal life be as private as he wants it to be. Hell, let him at least have a personal life, which is more than we seem to be allowing ourselves these days.

My point is – when is enough enough and we can go back to being real people again and not some self-shot, birds-eye avatars with bad lighting? When can we go back to having real conversations instead of commenting or “retweeting” in a medium that, if someone pulls the wrong plug, could be gone in a blink of an eye?

Don’t get me wrong – I love social media for its real values. I am an information junkie (see my “About” page for more on that), and I am connected via any means I can be. I find it amazing that we live in an age where we can be communicating, learning, advocating and protesting all at nearly the speed of thought (have you seen how fast some people can text?!?).

But I keep it reasonable. I don’t do extreme. There are people (and you know who you are) who host THOUSANDS of familiar, personal and nostalgic photos on these sites. Some have even replaced their emails, and text-messages with “Wall” posts, and their phone numbers with Twitter IDs.

People share, post and “tweet” ideas, thoughts and comments for the world to see without regard to the fact that they are essentially transferring ownership of those very same memories and words from their own mind to a server somewhere in the Web 2.0 cloud; making their “content” susceptible to downtime or even worse – deletion.

But perhaps an even greater problem lies in the aspects of social media that really have no value at all, like Ashton and Demi “tweeting” their body parts every 7 seconds, or some dude getting “owned” when Justin Tieber (still can’t name one of his songs) tweeted his cell number to millions of fans.

Meanwhile, every department store, soft drink, and fast food ad on TV ends their 15 seconds of air time with a “Fan us on Facebook” blurb in an effort to convince us to forgo our personal lives entirely and willfully subject ourselves to corporate advertising and privacy violations.

No, Sears, I do not want or need you on my wall. Hell, I don’t even like your store. It smells like oil and has crappy clothes.

Think of it this way: US advertisers spent an estimated $1.4 billion to place ads on social networking sites in 2008 – and that number is projected to rise to $2.6 billion by 2012.

Meanwhile, online identity theft increased 240% on social networking sites from 2008 to 2009. Two-thirds of businesses fear that social networking sites endanger corporate security, and one in four users of social networking sites unwittingly leave themselves open to crime by revealing personal details. There is also evidence that social network sites can expose children to predators, increase vulnerability to computer viruses, lower worker productivity, and promote narcissism and short attention spans.

Can you imagine a society in which every time you wanted to meet a friend for coffee or chat on the phone, you needed to sit through a 20-second commercial first? Does it seem at all frightening that a picture tagged of you with your three-year-old can instantly find its way to the screen of a sex offender?

Where is the disconnect? Where do we draw the line on social networking between “useful” and “necessary”, or “benign” and “alarming”? I would like to think this line exists, even if it is only one transparent pixel thick.

Now excuse me, I need to go tweet this post.