Thanks to PSFK, I am reading Bill Thompson’s recent account of life online.
Transparency, he says, that’s the key. Bill’s Facebook account exposes his friendship networks to public view. 30Box gives away his calendar. Twitter advertises his location. Flickr reveals his photographs which in turn reveal much more. Bill has alternative selves on evidence on Second Life, and accounts at Orkut, LiveJournal, and Bebo.
As he says, "…there’s little of me left to expose," and so confirms Piers Fawkes argument that privacy may prove something treasured by the 20th century only, perhaps, to be forsaken in the present one.
But what really got my attention is Bill’s conviction that his life has assumed a certain cloudiness.
As I spread myself around over the network, updating my Facebook profile, commenting on MySpace, flying through Second Life, blogging, twittering, updating my calendar and posting photos and videos and audio I am finding a new way to be Bill Thompson.
We have yet to glimpse the consequences of cloudiness. Bill, for one, isn’t sure what will become of him, and resorts to the third person to ask, "I wonder what he’ll be like?"
I think Thompson has it right. The issue here should not be restricted to the intellectual’s traditional lamentation that old categories are at risk. The issue is to ask what must happen to identity and human nature in the new regime.
Fawkes, Piers. 2007. 2007 Trends: Privacy Epiphany (Red coat, Black coat). PSFK, January 4, 2007. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2007. Cloudiness: of selves, groups, networks and ideas. This blog sits at the intersection of anthropology and economics. January 31, 2007. here.
Thompson, Bill. 2007. Finding myself through online identities. BBC News. May 14, 2007. here.
This would be a good place to notice that PSFK is holding its London conference on June 1, see http://psfklondon.eventbrite
Speakers and panelists include: George Parker, Russell Davies, Johnny Vulkan (Anomaly), Martin Cole , Jessica Greenwood (Contagious Magazine), Iain Tait (Poke), Dan Hon (Mind Candy), Jeremy Ettinghausen (Penguin), Beeker Northam (Bloom), Faris Yakob (Naked), Simon Sinek (Sinek Partners), Steven Overman (Lowe Worldwide), Justin Quirk (EMAP), Niku Benaie (Naked), John Grant, Diana Verde Nieto (Clownfish), Tamara Giltsoff (OZObrand), Stan Stalnaker (Hub), James Cherkoff, Regine Debatty (WM$NA) and Mike Butcher.
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The explosion of social networking technologies allow people to do what they already do, but through different mediums and therefore it feels novel. People have always performed and presented themselves relatively unselfconsciously to friends and family in a physical location.
Certain classes of us move around, and for maybe 600 million there’s a wider social pool afforded by the Internet (although interactions are limited in range). That said, we use these technologies to present ourselves with as much or little nakedness and vulnerability as we used to in person. It’s just a new medium, and therefore, in transition, we notice what we’ve always done and see it as new.
I think mediated relationship-building is both richer and more impoverished than the face-to-face model. There’s lower barrier to modeling new modes of being, so we can be eternal teenagers exploring avatars of ourselves. On the other hand, the disjointedness of this can cause loneliness and put us in closer contact with the question – Who are we, and why?