Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Guest post: Performing ourselves on Facebook

I have a new guest post over at Ribbonfarm on how social media affects our outer personas and effectively our actual being as well.

I can hear the skeptics winding up already. But if you are spending your time having bitter disagreements with people from widely different backgrounds, that you don't know personally, who might be anywhere in the world, then you have already lost this particular argument.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Engineers of Human Souls

You have one identity. The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly…. Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.
       – Mark Zuckerberg
This quote from a few years back still amazes me today. If we take it at face value, it implies that some of the fundamental laws and conditions of human existence are being blithely reworked by what are basically naive kids. The kids happen to run a billion dollar corporation, but does Zuckerberg’s technological and business prowess give him a license to not only pontificate about the nature of human identity, but radically alter it? Apparently it does.

Zuckerberg’s childish ideas about how humans work is going to affect hundreds of millions of people and how they interact with each other. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, you will be forced to give up whatever multiple personas you like to keep on hand for different occasions, and just Be Yourself. In a way, maybe it’s a relief. No more playing roles, you are just you. As Zuckerbergs’s line about “lack of integrity” implies, only the morally flawed would want to hide their true face from the public eye.

Well, fortunately a lot of this is the usual cloud of hot air that hangs over Silicon Valley. Facebook and other social media certainly put a twist on social life and interaction, but do they reach into the deepest recesses of the human mind and change the way we are? I’m not sure. I don’t think Facebook has changed me that much, but I’m old. It may be a different story for those growing up in this media environment. I’m built out of books and bad 1960s television shows; my children are constructing themselves from multiplayer gaming worlds and the like. They will be different.

I do not mind so much that technology changes how we interact with each other and thus how we construct ourselves; that has been happening all the time, every new media technology (print, newspapers, radio, telephone) does that. If the Internet wires us together in a new way, that is OK, it’s not like the particular conditions of the previous social matrix were something especially sacred.

What does bother me is how we are doing this in such an undemocratic, centralized, and corporate fashion. The Internet was designed to be open, free form, and democratic. The web followed those principles and displaced the corporate walled gardens of an earlier era (AOL and Compuserve). Now we seem ready to give all that up and cede control of the very fabric of our lives to Zuckerberg’s walled garden / panopticon because that is where everybody else is, with barely a whimper of protest. It would be bad enough if social media were merely an entertainment playground, but it's builders seem to think it is part of the infrastructure of the new human soul, and they may be right.

[previously] [post title reference]