Thursday, January 28, 2010

Not Privacy

There is a whole lot of "Not Privacy" on the internet these days.

It may have started with MySpace and Friendster, which allowed people to set up their own webpage quickly and easily.  Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg claims that this is a long-term shift in the zeitgeist and that the social norms have changed.  He may be right.

Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, even GeoCities ... all of those together represent some kind of tipping point in the internet.  I was around for the Eternal September when USENET because something very different ... although I sheepishly admit to being one of the frosh, not the "Old Guard."

But that was different.  You had a handle, a reputation among the other contributors, and that was it.  When you logged off, you were gone.  Not so today.  Today's users have an online presence that represents them 24/7, whether they're paying attention to it or not.  And there are interesting stories that today's younger generation is spending more time building their online personalities than their REAL LIFE personalities. (I'm searching for a link to a recent story on NPR, but coming up dry.)

And why not?  Your online personality, as represented by your Facebook page and your Twitter account, is unencumbered by the harshness of reality.  You get to post the pictures of yourself that you like the best.  You get to compose your thoughts (inane though they may be) before broadcasting to the world.  And that broadcast is almost effortless ... you do it once, and the entire world can read it over and over again.  It's relatively easy to build an online presence to your liking, and you get to revel in your own indulgences.  It's harder to build a real-life presence, where you actually have to interact with people (the horror!) and build a reputation and personality over time.

In another year or so, Facebook and Twitter will inevitably be replaced by the next generation of always-on, instant gratification electronic communication lumped into the broad category of "social media."  I just hope it's done gracefully, and doesn't abandon millions of fragile youths, longing for their lost identity and the "good old days" on Facebook.

This blog is a little bit like that, but with some of the "Not Privacy" removed.  In other words, I'm not trying to make this a blog about John Smith, if John Smith were my real name.  I'm trying to make this a blog about things I find interesting, and hoping to build an internet presence as an internet character.  It's kind of like the old Ars Technica editors who were at first only known by their handles.  I was genuinely saddened when I learned that Hannibal and Caesar would be giving up their handles when posting stories.  Or that Cmdr guy who started some other website.  (For the record: I have no aspirations of getting to that level of readership.  I'm just saying I like the model.)  Any reasonably savvy internet user can ferret out my real name, but I'm not going to proclaim it across the top in some kind of banner.  Incidentally, those are my feet shown in the picture on the top of this blog.

There are a ton of clever, insightful, witty internet sites out there.  I only hope I can add to that discussion, maybe with some help from the peanut gallery in the comments sections.

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