One of the horrors of the Stalinist regime, the later Soviet communist regime, the totalitarian variants in East Germany and Czekoslovakia and other similar states was the enormous and detailed personal dossier collection about so many citizens in each country. Millions of dossiers were assembled and carefully tended by the secret police organizations - files containing personal information for individual citizens about their religious affiliation, political affiliations and leanings, personal histories, activities, friends, relations, business dealings and communications, in addition to all the usual census things such as date of birth, home and work addresses, place of birth and on and on.
Doesn't that uncomfortably recent history in Europe all read too much like the massively detailed databases to which we freely, willingly and enthusiastically contribute on FaceBook, MySpace, Google+, Twitter and all the other big social networks?
From the 1920s through the 1980s, citizens in many countries in Europe, Eurasia and in China were summarily singled out for brutal attention by secret police driven by political, religious and philosophically warped taskmasters intent on ferreting out all of what they considered to be dissidents, fifth columnists and citizens plotting sedition, no matter how tenuous the facts or how sadly misinterpreted the dossiers happened to be.
(Image Not Credited: we're looking for the originator)
I worry about the potentially awful uses for all that personal information we've handed over. Simply stating, "Hey Howard, you idiot, Zuckerberg and his ilk are not clones of Stalin. What the hell is wrong with you?!?" is all well and good and demonstrably accurate, but it also doesn't come close to addressing why it was our parents (and some of us too, more recently) worked as hard to defeat regimes that kept such detailed records about their citizens as we insist on herding ourselves into FaceBook and willingly handing over the exact same sort of information to utter strangers.
I haven't quite figured this out yet. When I do, I'll let you know. In the meantime, remember that telling the whole world about your religious, social, political and philosophical affiliations has historically been a collection of details that a succession of regimes have used to the terrible detriment of their peoples. Live in the digitally connected and online worlds too often if you must, but just remember how much about yourself is now available to anyone who cares to look for the information - for whatever purpose.
In totalitarian regimes, information about individual citizens provides regime leaders with unusual control - often brutal control - over everything. So take the hint: the more information you give up to the utter strangers that own and operate the overarchingly influential social network services, the more control you give those strangers over your life.