Consider the following deviant characters: loose cannons, blabbermouths, gossipers, and yentas, stool pigeons and canaries, tattlers and squealers, garblers, the nosy, the deaf to hints, talkers-out-of-school, missers-of-winks, leakers, spoilers of surprises, whistle blowers, betrayers, moles and turncoats, unreliable messengers, and friends who “didn’t realize you’d want to know” or forget to mention. In each case the deviance lies in the social handling of information.
Curiously, they can all be distinguished from the most well know information deviant, the liar, by the fact that they can be deviant while handling “the truth.” These characters are “deviant nodes” who fail at their duties in a social information networks. They do so by passing along what they should not, or by transmitting to the wrong people, or by notifying in the wrong manner, time, or sequence. They fail to discriminate. They introduce errors into the message. They do not distinguish relevant from irrelevant. They miss the real message, fail to appreciate urgency or delicateness. They let down those who trusted them to stay silent or to speak up.
The list above shows that we have lots of nouns to describe those who talk out of turn, but few for for those who fail as nodes by saying too little. Adjectives abound: “diffident”implies not speaking up when one could or should, and “reticent” means “to remain silent” and implies a hesitance to pass along information. And there are familiar utterances such as “What? Why didn’t you tell me?” or “I didn’t think you would want to know…” that are evocative of the node who falls down on the job, but the social types seem not sufficiently crystalized to have names the way the overzealous communicators do. We do have terms of approbation to describe those who positively exceed expectations of discretion and reticence: confidantes, bosom buddies, pals, and cronies are all characters with whom information is safe, but even these are not as general as the negative types, each being tied to specific others.
While the colorful terms above describe empirically unusual roles, the potential for each of the behaviors is high. The social networks of everyday interaction are full of opportunities for nodes to get it wrong or go rogue. Each of us walks around “recording” images and sounds and actions and utterances, we engage in conversations and we have random thoughts, all material that we could “post” to our (“real world”) social networks, pass along to the next person we run into. But mostly we do not.
What stops us from describing to colleagues the sounds a co-worker just made in the bathroom or what one’s spouse said last night? Why do we not worry that our kids will narrate for their friends the details of her parents’ recent fight or that our colleague will reveal the source of that tidbit about the boss we passed along? Even people who completely take to heart advice to “never put something in an email that you don’t want the world to see,” are far less guarded and vigilant in everyday life.
The relative worry that we put into Facebook privacy settings compared to the nonchalance with which we participate in everyday social networks suggests the phenomenally high levels of “privacy settings” we take for granted in the people around us. Most of the nodes in our everyday social networks, we seem to assume, know how to be socially competent nodes.
Before they are very old, before they’ve been friends for very long, before they have much experience on the job, they are masters of nuance and signaling, they understand the security clearance levels in within circles of friends and family, they understand what is for attribution and what is not, what is on the record, what is off; without being explicitly told they know what does not leave a room, what was not said by you, and what was never said at all;
But how do they get that way? How does one learn to be a (competent) node? That’s what this chapter is about.