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Redefining the you that is you
December 30, 2011 5:51 AM   Subscribe

You Are Not Your Name and Photo: A Call to Re-Imagine Identity.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (48 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
moot continues to astound and impress me with how very much he 'gets' the human condition and the Internet. The talk is really worth a listen on top of the article.
posted by cavalier at 6:09 AM on December 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


“It’s not who you share with, but who you share as.”

there is incredible truth to that statement, summing up everything I hate about facebook.
posted by rebent at 6:12 AM on December 30, 2011 [15 favorites]


moot continues to astound and impress me with how very much he 'gets' the human condition and the Internet.

This. He may not be the next Zuckerberg, but he may be something better.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:17 AM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes.


disclaimer: this yes may not apply to comments following thereafter
posted by infini at 6:22 AM on December 30, 2011


I think "not the next Zuckerberg" is a feature, not a bug. I'm not really into the chans, but it seems like moot is thinking about identity and the internet in ways that are pretty positive and dare-I-say innovative for a live site. I mean other people are thinking about identity online, but nobody else who's thinking about it in this way is running a community as large and influential as 4chan/canvas, and the implementation is the hard bit.
posted by Alterscape at 6:27 AM on December 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Its a moot point, you say?
posted by infini at 6:30 AM on December 30, 2011


I worked as research assistant to a professor in law school who is high profile in legal academic circles (I know, small pond, ivory tower, whatever) doing work on pseudonymity, anonymity and internet regulation/internet law. It was really fun and really interesting. One of the experiences I look back on when I am either categorizing my great failures to do anything important and when I look back on the great experiences which mark my life as really good. These issues are why my interactions at Facebook, Google+ and any place that is obviously tagged with my "real name" or a full face picture of me are perfunctory at best.

Honestly, the issues of identity, self-presentation, the overlapping of social circles and social persona, pseudonymity and anonymity are why--initially--I would never go to MeFi meet-ups.

I still read a lot of my professor's work, as well as danah boyd's stuff, and try to keep up generally on the topic. What strikes me now about the work is how very different the concerns are for teenagers, versus young adults, versus middle aged folks like me, versus people like my parents for whom online social conduct came rather late into their lives. It's interesting to see what parts of self-preservation seem instinctive across the board.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:31 AM on December 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


To advertisers, you are whichever identity has the checkbook.
posted by swift at 6:40 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


crush-onastick, could you elaborate on the differences in cohort privacy?
posted by rebent at 6:52 AM on December 30, 2011


I AM NOT a twitter handle, I am a real man.
posted by sammyo at 7:11 AM on December 30, 2011


You're not your job...
posted by Splunge at 7:25 AM on December 30, 2011


The more I read or hear about research into the intersection between Facebook, Twitter, Google+, facial recognition technology, and employer/law enforcement of such things online, the happier I am at my decision years ago not to be involved in such online "services".
posted by hippybear at 7:29 AM on December 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I guess I don't totally get it. Poole argues that Facebook consolidates identity. Well, so do the real-world attributes of identity -- my name consolidated my identity, my physical body consolidates my identity. If people feel Facebook limits their expression of identity, why are they letting it be that important? Why don't they do and be everything that they want to be, pour it into facebook, and not worry about it?
posted by jayder at 7:39 AM on December 30, 2011


rebent, do you mean how the concerns change with the age of person? I'm not by any means an expert (or even particularly well-read in the topic), but I can give you some thoughts based on what I have read.

Teenagers have complex social structures which allow them to try on different identities, to explore elements of themselves and the larger world, which are constructed to keep them safe through those experimentations. Whether "safe" means physically safe (in terms of, perhaps, LGBT issues) or emotionally safe (in terms of, say, very conservative parents) or reputationally safe (like the madonna/whore conuundrum). As you get older, you tend to play less with trying on identities or tend to have less need to retreat from one social persona into another which provides safety. This manifests in particular ways, now that everything (American) teens do leaves a digital trail (text messages, twitter postings, Facebook, cellphone pics).

Adults are more concerned with either maintaining social dignity or professional reputations; adult concerns are more with maintaining than establishing self. Adults also have personal privacy concerns which may revolve around keeping eccentricities hidden, rather than maintaining fluidity of self. A teen suffers greater repercussions from "suddenly" liking an idea they used to mock or being revealed as into something unlikely than an adult does when an unexpected interest surfaces. A modern teen is also in a world where everything has always left a digital trail, whereas some adults are still taken aback to find a record of something assumed ephemeral.

Also the personal privacy concerns of (particularly middle-aged) adults tend to stem from places of preserving social fictions. You know, like how Thanksgiving is just more pleasant for everyone if Uncle Jack doesn't spout off his tea party politics or Aunt Maisie doesn't go on about her militant veganism. Psuedonymity and anonymity concerns of adults tend to be about preserving spaces where you don't have to explain or argue about an unusual hobby or unusual viewpoint or suffer (nonprofessional repercussions) of being associated with certain political positions. Although adults do seek psuedonymity or anonymity to role-play online, like teens, in order to explore ideas outside their comfort zone without being taken for a believer of the idea or permanently assuming the identity.

The differences are nuanced, but its my understanding they are based upon the settling of permanent identities, as well as a different understanding of consequences. Again, I'm interested in the topic and have read a bit about it, but not a lot. Someone with more knowledge would definitely be more succinct and more accurate.

Of course, when you start looking at the anonymity/psuedonymity of adults in marginalized populations, the rules shift again, but I have very little exposure to the discussion of anonymity/psuedonymity of adults in marginalized populations.

danah boyd wrote about kids who de-activate their Facebook pages every time they log out--which is a tactic well more extreme than your average adult would feel necessary for the sorts of social control and cover they tend to create. I think it's just connected with the differences in adolescent and adult brains. There's lots of literature in my actual field (juvenile justice) about the inability of adolescent brains to approach decisions or assess consequences in the same way as an adult brain. (Frontline on the idea here). There's some evidence the differences manifest in approaches to online activity with regard to provacy. Also, you know, your average adult is more mature and hopefully better equipped to deal with social blowback from all but the most scandalous revelations.

I haven't seen any good writing about how people who did not grow up with the internet value or create anonymity or psuedonymity online. It would be really interesting, but I imagine it's rapidly becoming moot, except as a historical exercise.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:54 AM on December 30, 2011 [28 favorites]


Identity is advertising.

That's not a metaphor. The words mean the same thing. When you talk about "advertising" you put identity in a context of business--"brand identity" and "product identity" mainly. But individuals can advertise themselves, hence "personal ads". And, actually, individuals need to advertise themselves in order to do mundane things like buy food at a restaurant: "I'm trying to flag down a taxi." Now you are advertising yourself as a fare.

Identity is what you do to signal your availability for something. Possibly something you haven't really thought of yet. Maybe you'll identify yourself as an Information Technology Consultant in order to get some job in the field and you don't care what. Maybe you'll advertise yourself as Not Evil in order to get people to trust you a little more of the time and give you a little more data. Whatever.

Facebook does an excellent job of letting advertisers identify themselves. It probably wouldn't get such a bad rap, and would certainly be a much better tool, if it gave the same tools to regular users.

I dunno how they'd make their cash that way, though. Sell extra identity by the pixel?
posted by LogicalDash at 7:54 AM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am a different person with my close friends than I am in a business situation than I am around distant relatives than I am with strangers than I am while driving my car. They're all closely related, but they're not the same person. There are also aspects of my personality which never come out when I'm around anyone else, but which are given an opportunity to come out online if I let them, and I don't think that's useful or healthy, either.

We instinctively know know how to segregate these aspects of our personality in real life; it's really hard given the tools we have now to present the appropriate face to the right people online.

Why shouldn't a teenager be able to show naked pictures to a suitor AND show a beer bong party-shot to some buddies AND show a photo unwrapping presents to grandma AND keep a personal journal for best friends AND a resume for prospective employers, without worrying too much about the wrong stuff being seen by the wrong people?

Presumably employers and grandmas know people party and get off, but they carefully ignore that information when they can. In a share-everything yet judgmental society, though, they can't ignore it, and that's what Facebook and its ilk are promulgating.
posted by maxwelton at 8:08 AM on December 30, 2011 [21 favorites]


Just like Google+ "circles" showed Facebook's "friends" to be crude, brute representations of relationships, Moot's "prisms" show how wrong they both got "profiles" and profile information.
posted by fake at 8:12 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Identity is advertising.

Do you wonder about your identity ("who am I?", "what is the nature of my personality?") when you are apart from other people? I do, and I think that means the two are different. Conflating the two strikes me as part of an American tendency to claim that business is all that matters.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:49 AM on December 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


We instinctively know know how to segregate these aspects of our personality in real life; it's really hard given the tools we have now to present the appropriate face to the right people online.

Although I otherwise agree with what you've said, I don't think we instinctively know how to segregate aspects of our personality, although it is really hard given the tools we have. I think that is one of the key differences in how adolescents construct identity/privacy online and how adults do it. Adults are practised at segregating their social selves whereas adolescents aren't. And as the world and technology currently stand, the younger you are, the better you are at using the tools you're given. That will change, of course, as people born with a digital self grow up.

The complete integration of social identity manipulation with digital identity/identities is going to be fascinating and a sea change in society.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:57 AM on December 30, 2011


Marketers definitely think about their mindshare and brand identity when they are not currently engaged in an ad campaign. I suppose freelancers might be an exception but I'm pretty sure even they have ideas that they want to find a job to use on.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:00 AM on December 30, 2011


"Identity is prismatic."

I really liked this quote. Poole is spot-on and I thoroughly enjoyed the article and video. However, I'm baffled by something he said in the video...about how Canvas requires Facebook authentication at signup. This makes no sense to me and seems to go against the points he's trying to make. Can someone explain the logic here? Because I'm really not getting that bit.

crush-onastick...great comment! I think we often overlook these differences between different age group motivations and behaviors, especially how those things interact with a changing internet world over time. As adults, we can't even compare our past teen internet experiences to those of teens today, because we were experiencing a very new, undefined and wildly shifting internet. Teens today are experiencing internet culture as something pre-existing, that they enter into and grow-up with. But it's still changing. And they are the first generation to experience it in those conditions. Even when they become adults, they won't be able to easily compare their experiences to those of the current teens at that later time, because of this unique way that their entry into internet culture is different from these future teens'. New identity issues will be abound and the old ones will be, well, old.

Susan Herring wrote a fantastic article about youth culture and technology, addressing the very things I think you and I are getting at here: Questioning The Generational Divide: Technological Exoticism and Adult Construction of Online Youth Identity [PDF download]. I particularly liked these three quotes:
"I propose that the current so-called "Internet generation" is in fact a transitional generation, in which young Internet users are characterized to varying degrees by a dual consciousness of both their own and adult perspectives. I further suggest that the birth of a true Internet generation, which still lies some years in the future, will pave the way for changes in media attitudes and consumption that will be more thoroughgoing, normalized, and hence more difficult to question. It follows from this that we should take advantage of the present transitional moment to reflect across generations about technology and social change."

"Perhaps more surprising, many of what we consider new technologies (instant messaging, blogs, chat rooms, email, cell phones, search engines, etc.) are "transparent" to young users —they do not consider them to be technologies, except in the broadest sense. In a recent survey, U.S. undergraduates defined technology as new or customizable; for example, a cell phone with standard features is not technology, but a cell phone with new features is. For something to be "technology," in other words, it should be novel, challenging, and fun, not merely useful. (Analogously, in my generation, washing machines and telephones were not considered technology, but anything to do with computers was.)"

"In light of all this, the label "Internet generation" itself (and its variants such as "Net generation" and "digital generation") must be seen as reflecting the perspective of a demographic for whom the Internet and associated digital media are new and salient, not taken for granted as they are by many of today's youth. That is, it is an exonym—a name used to refer to a group by outsiders (in this case, adults)—rather than an endonym—a name chosen by the group to represent itself. Just as my generation did not self-identify in terms of the reproductive patterns of its parents' generation, but rather had the name "Baby Boomers" assigned to it, the current generation of young people does not self-identify in terms of the technology created by its parents' generation. Nor do most kids self-define primarily in terms of technology, although they acknowledge the prevalence of digital media in their lives."
It's interesting when you start thinking about this in terms of exonyms and endonyms, because the personal, micro-version of this goes back to the Nym wars and who builds the rails on our identity-expressing sites, granting or revoking our ability to self-define with an identity marker (our "name") that itself is in flux right now about what it means as an identity marker (i.e., one of the original questions...how much of my identity *is* my name or picture?). This is how the ability to choose my name versus being forced to use my birth name is reflective of this idealogical fight about what technology means and who is defining or exoticizing that for me. And goes right back to another one of Poole's excellent quotes, worth repeating, “It’s not who you share with, but who you share as.” Having control over who I get to share as, in my mind, is conceptually parallel to the types of controls that go along with adult autonomy. I think it's why I felt Google Plus' name restrictions were like parental micro-managing, which set me off in a spectacularly bratty fashion. And then recognizing that, well, that really pissed me off.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:04 AM on December 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


As for "business is all that matters," well, I'm claiming that identity only has meaning in your interactions with others, and those can be called "business" in the broadest sense where money doesn't need to change hands.

If I'm just changing the way I think of myself and not telling anyone else about it nor signaling in any way, I guess I could call that a change of identity, in the same sense that I'd say I'm arguing with myself when I feel conflicted about something. I'm acting as two people.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:10 AM on December 30, 2011


"Identity is advertising."

I agree with benito.strauss' sentiments on this and would add that it's not 'identity' that is 'advertising', but rather the outward expression of an identity that is equatable with the concept or act of advertising. Advertising in this sense is a gerund and identity is a noun. Perhaps semantically shifting into a mass, non-count one.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:13 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


moot as advocate for a practical phenomenology of identity. Slow clap, Internet. Slow clap.

Seriously though, there's some pretty fertile ground here. How do our encounters with the Other (not in the sociological sense necessarily, more in the Levinas sense) change with the advent of online communication? Given these changes, how does our self-conception or effective practical identity (if there is such a thing) react accordingly? Is honesty and rigor, in regards to personal narrative and self-conception, something that should be enforced? If so, should it be enforced by an individual or the system that the individual utilizes?

I hope we continue asking these kinds of questions.
posted by donquixote at 9:14 AM on December 30, 2011


it's not 'identity' that is 'advertising', but rather the outward expression of an identity

Fair enough. I'm pretty sure that the outward expression of identity that moot's talking about, though. If you don't outwardly express it then it doesn't go on the internet.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:25 AM on December 30, 2011


Every time facebook changes, it adds more content to the user's home page. More information about friends. News feeds, minifeeds, online-offline statuses, etc.

My boss was complaining about it because it was too invasive of privacy. I disagreed with her, because, in my opinion, that privacy "breach" was already there. A user could already see all the actions and behaviors of their friends, if they just clicked around a bit. But nobody really realized that until the minifeed was added.

In my opinion, that minifeed plays a primary role of educating users about what other people can see them do. Before, it was a mystery. But now there is the realization - there is no privacy. Acting like there is privacy is what will get you into trouble.

And so I contend that moot's point is incorrect. Acting like using the name "rebent" or "forthwith" or "cranilation" or "sam kallen", each with different content going out, is going to protect certain segments of the population from seeing the "not safe for grandma" stuff I like to talk to strangers about is dangerous and shows an incorrect view of how the internet works.

We all double-dip our usernames, email addresses, IM SN's. Except perhaps the most private, who know better. But it doesn't take much to find someone based on just a little bit of information.

The next generation will understand - there is no privacy. Until then, all this pseudonym and anonym stuff will just blind us to the fact.

Case in point: Doxing at it's finest. Given 1.25 hours, a first name, a state, and a friend's first name, 4chan was able to locate this girls facebook account.

This is totally possible. the only question is, can someone make money off of it? Sure, businesses facebook prospective employees, but is that useful? Maybe it will be made illegal (wouldn't that be nice!), or maybe it's just another crappy way of guessing which of the identical hundred applicants should not be hired. But if it is actually proven to be useful! What then! Outsourcing doxing to sweat-nets? Algorithms that track down every account you ever made, regardless of the pseudonym used?

If it's useful, someone will make money off of it. Changing my name to "Rebear" isn't going to change that.
posted by rebent at 9:32 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


It would be just as effective and oh, so much easier for hiring managers to roll dice to break ties.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:35 AM on December 30, 2011


My personal theory re: Facebook...

Zuckenburger read 'The Society of the Spectacle' when he was at college and thought a) it's bullshit but b) it sounds like a really good idea.....

So he figured what the world really needed in order for it to realize Debord's vision of everything (including identity) becoming a mere representation of itself was some kind of mass participant techno-social innovation....... ;)
posted by Monkeymoo at 9:37 AM on December 30, 2011


LD: I agree. I just wish there were more jobs, so placing all the qualified candidates wasn't such a problem...
posted by rebent at 9:38 AM on December 30, 2011


I disagree, rennet. Cost is hugely important when it comes to privacy. there are all kings of things that have been "public" for hundreds of years --- but no one worried too much about people finding them out, because discovering the info took time, effort, and money. You wouldn't bother to do it unless you had a strong need to know. But those costs were invisible and un-thought of when the laws and customs around privacy were formed. Th Internet has hugely reduced those cost to where we're beginning to see the signs of trouble --- but Facebook is seeking to eliminate them entirely. So you're right that there was a lot out there already that people could find if they took the trouble --- but your boss is also right that there's an important change when finding that stuff takes no trouble at all.
posted by Diablevert at 9:47 AM on December 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Diablevert, I feel like the conclusion of what you're saying is that we used to have privacy because only the people who actually cared to find things out could do so.

It's like the security theater we have at the airports - doesn't actually stop people who care to cause trouble, so it only makes us feel like we're safe. This leads to apathy which I'm sure will cause more problems than if we were just actually more careful.
posted by rebent at 10:00 AM on December 30, 2011


The next generation will understand - there is no privacy. Until then, all this pseudonym and anonym stuff will just blind us to the fact.

Best FACEBOOK advice I received before finally getting an account was, "Whatever you do there, you're doing on stage with a few hundred people in the audience ... and cameras rolling, recording."

So yeah, nothing remotely private about it except, of course, the things we choose not to say/report/reveal. But that's a big EXCEPT.
posted by philip-random at 10:18 AM on December 30, 2011


Diablevert, I feel like the conclusion of what you're saying is that we used to have privacy because only the people who actually cared to find things out could do so.

Yes, that is exactly what I'm saying. Even before the internet, it was possible to track exactly what someone bought, where they went, what they said, who their friends were: you just hired someone to follow them around all day. Since that costs a shitload of money, it was only worth doing for really important things. Implicit in the idea of making certain info public was that you wanted it to be out there when it was important to know: is this person I'm about to marry already married, does the guy I'm buying this house from actually own it, has the dude we're sending to Congress ever been convicted of a crime. People who live in a tiny village have little privacy because it's impossible for them to conduct much of their activity without being observed by someone they know. You have to live in a big enough place to have most of the people in it be strangers to you to have privacy. It's the essence of civilisation, the essence of the city itself. Facebook and others are working to destroy that by making the global village a reality.

I'm not sure what analogy you're drawing to airport security, however.
posted by Diablevert at 10:20 AM on December 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is a great observation. Metafilter is the only place that I am mostly my true, uncensored self, and that's because it's - at least on the surface - anonymous, although you could find me with little effort. Everywhere else just gets little pieces of me.
posted by desjardins at 11:27 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


well, rebent, I would argue that it's not about "privacy" in the sense that the activity remains either unknown or unconnectable to my "primary" identity; it's about "privacy" in a sense of social convention, where an activity remains segregated or divorced from and unacknowleged within one of my social identities/spheres, regardless of whether it's a simple or complex task to connect them. I think of this as a necessary social fiction--we leave parts of other people's lives unacknowledged because it facilitates our interactions. This comes up a lot in ask.mes about socializing with/dating/or dealing with (irritating) work colleagues. So you're right, in a sense, that the lack of privacy was already there with Facebook to begin with--in that it's a public space where you are conducting yourself social. I would argue, however, that people have always attempted to navigate the online world with the same sense of social sphere segregation that they have in life, which is privacy in a different sense.

There are no universal social conventions, but here's a for-instance. For the most part, people don't relate to their parents as sexual beings. We all acknowledge that our parents are sexual beings--they produced us, after all--and parents (eventually) acknowledge that their children are sexual beings (they see us get married or reproduce or take us to our first gynecological appointment). But we don't interact as one sexual being with another. We don't flirt, pass along techniques, brag about our conquests, compare sizes of our partner's penises with our parents. That's not the social circle most of us put our parents into.

Psuedonymity and anonymity online help all of us delineate where those barriers are--not so that we can't cross them ever, but so we know when we are about to and can assess the consequences of going there.

Take another example, say, when a high school student runs into her math teacher in a lingerie shop. There's no expectation on the teacher's part that she is hidden when she is in a lingerie shop. There is, however, a very strong expectation that the student is in the wrong if she tells everyone that Miss Harris bought a 34d bra. The spheres are crossing without any intent and without any harm, as long as the student doesn't gossip about the teacher's purchase and as long as the teacher doesn't tell other students that the student was there. Placing walls around the social media (I know lots of teachers who have Jane Smith facebooks and Jane Smith-Teacher facebooks).

Reusing psuedonyms doesn't compromise these barriers as much as it reinforces them--or at least serves to highlight them. It's like wearing suitable shoes for the occasion. So the woman is Jame Smith at work, she's Jane Smith at LinkedIn and on WordPress where she writes about issues related to her job and at Facebook, because that's "her". But she's VioletJane in the online cocktail society that she participates in and her Disqus log-in because she mostly comments at food blogs and maybe a fashion blog or two and the cross-over seems natural. But she's "fastcar" on XBox because it's a pain to be identified as a woman in gaming communities. Maybe she's Violetfastcar at metafilter because it's not a big deal if someone connects the two but it would be a big deal if she was outed as a woman in the gaming community. Likewise, it's not a big deal if her sister on Facebook figures out she's VioletJane at the cocktail society, but she has plausible deniability when the paralegal figures it out. The denial of the pseudonym, too, exists to tip off paralegal that this is an unacceptable line to cross in this social interaction.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:30 AM on December 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


where:
"Placing walls around the social media (I know lots of teachers who have Jane Smith facebooks and Jane Smith-Teacher facebooks)." reads

"Placing walls around the social media (I know lots of teachers who have Jane Smith facebooks and Jane Smith-Teacher facebooks) reminds us that everyone is entitled to respect for their comfort zones." Google+ acknowledges this with its message to remember that you might be sharing something someone else had distributed only to a limited group of people.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:34 AM on December 30, 2011


Crush-onastick, I like your analysis, but I think it applies only to the polite, non-infringing society, and not to the snoops. Different usernames is indeed a useful way to tell people "You may like to talk to me about sports, but on this handle I talk about something you're either not interested in or not comfortable with."

When I try to compartmentalize my social expressions, it's in an attempt to protect myself from snoopers - i.e. parents, bosses, or perhaps significant others who's sole purpose of investigating my multiple personalities is to pass judgement on me once they know who I "really am" instead of just who I "pretend to be."

I wonder - if we did not want to hid from judgement, would we bother hiding our different aspects? To be socialized is to learn when to keep your mouth shut, I think. Therefore, hand-in-hand with exploring our different selves through different non-anonymous social groups online, I think we should also try to encourage an increase in a social norm of acceptance and non-judgement.

I think that the internet is going to force acceptance upon us, eventually, but until then we are going to see a lot of fighting and excessive non-acceptance.
posted by rebent at 11:43 AM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's a utopian vision of digital culture that I don't find convincing--elimination of social walls eliminates judgmental behavior, but otherwise, yes, psuedonymity and anonymity online don't work to prevent malicious snooping. They often aren't much of a barrier to accidental snooping.

So that's sort of the ultimate question: do we force dismantling of the fiction of compartmentalized lives or do we give people better digital tools to enforce online socialization which recognizes that you do not lightly cross psuedonym barriers?

It's obvious that I think the latter is the better solution, in part because I disagree that you can force people to become comfortable with parts of the lives of their friends or coworkers or teachers that are alien or unappealing to them. I also think it's unkind--if not an affront to human dignity--to expect everyone to never pull the metaphorical curtains, even if those curtains often the comforting fiction of privacy. but I'm old, and as iamkimiam's comment points out, we really have no idea at all how kids born with twitter accounts (like my four-year-old nephew) will internalize this stuff.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:04 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


oh for the small electric shock that stops one hitting post without really reviewing the preview window!

"even if those curtains often the comforting fiction of privacy." should read "even if those curtains offer only the comforting fiction of privacy, rather than an actual zone where you cannot be viewed."
posted by crush-onastick at 12:06 PM on December 30, 2011


Obviously, elimination of cultural barriers and social walls promotes acceptance: see, civil rights advances in the U.S. with regard to immigrants, African-Americans, gays. But I don't think that necessarily means that, eventually, we will have no need to keep intimacies private. I guess, fundamentally, I divide "judgmental" into "bad judgmental" and "neutral judgmental" where "bad judgmental" is "I am uncomfortable with this aspect of your self and you should be ashamed and hide it from me" and "neutral judgmental" is "I am uncomfortable with that aspect of yourself but you seem like a nice person and I appreciate that we don't have to confront that discomfort everytime I run into you at the grocery store because I have bigger emotional fish to fry".
posted by crush-onastick at 12:19 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


crush-onastick's examples are very close to my own. My metafilter username is probably closest to my actual thoughts and opinions on things -- warts and all -- out there. And I go out of my way to separate my username from my real name. It isn't so much that I'm ashamed of what I write under this username, but I don't want someone looking for dirt on my to add that I'm a heathen librul commie queer loving feminazi. Posts on Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn under my real name are pretty boring "I had a cheese sandwich for lunch" type things because I don't want to make waves. It may be illegal to discriminate against me for my beliefs, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen all the time.

If I had the financial security to not give a fuck what other people thought of me, I'd lift the self filtering from my name. But as long as my income relies on someone else who might think Rick Perry is what America needs right now, or that because I don't subscribe to their religion I can't be trusted, or that my love of Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night" makes me an uncultured slob, I'll keep my true self limited to handles.
posted by birdherder at 12:32 PM on December 30, 2011


i have said it before and i will say it again; moot talks a good game but that is as far as it goes
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:29 PM on December 30, 2011


obligatory Oscar Wilde quote:

"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."
posted by philip-random at 5:49 PM on December 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


Facebook a Factor in a Third of UK Divorces
posted by jeffburdges at 12:10 AM on January 3, 2012


"I disagree, rennet. Cost is hugely important when it comes to privacy. there are all kings of things that have been "public" for hundreds of years --- but no one worried too much about people finding them out, because discovering the info took time, effort, and money. You wouldn't bother to do it unless you had a strong need to know. But those costs were invisible and un-thought of when the laws and customs around privacy were formed."

This is conventional wisdom, but it's wrong. It's wrong in two different ways.

First, it's wrong in that the things you're thinking of account for only relatively small portion of what can be known about you; and, also, you're thinking mostly of strangers.

What really prevents people from invading privacy is the social stigmatization against it. In our daily lives, with the people that we actually know and are around, those people have many, many opportunities all the time to invade our privacy. They can read our diaries and our mail and look at our hard drives and in our office drawers. They can ask our close friends very personal questions. They can lurk nearby when we have private conversations. They can take unwelcome photographs of us. They can tape record us when we talk on the phone with them. When they visit our home, they can look in the cupboards and in the closets. They can look in our purses and wallets.

The only thing that stops people from doing these things are common codes of behavior relating to personal privacy.

Now, yes, in the case of strangers, part of what's available to them are the things I list above but a lot of the rest of it is public information that is technically available, but takes some effort or cost to procure. Still, consider for a moment what this would mean for anyone you actually would interact with—you'd consider it an invasion of privacy. For example, if you were to discover that someone you're to meet for a first-date has purchased a credit report on you, gone down to the courthouse and pulled all the available records and the like, you'd be offended. Rightly so.

Finally, while this sadly isn't very true in the US (but it's more true in Europe), many of the privacy invasions that we're concerned about from strangers are prohibited or regulated by law. For example, there are things that employers aren't allowed to ask, or to consider for employment.

In my strong opinion—and I've thought about these issues carefully for years—technological means are the wrong way to try to solve this problem. The right way to solve the problem is the combination of adopting new privacy customs and enacting laws against privacy invasions by institutions and those who would mean us harm. To the degree to which privacy is protected neither by custom nor by laws, but by technology, is the degree to which the unscrupulous, powerful, and wealthy will gladly use technology to circumvent those technical barriers. If privacy mores were strongly in place, they would be less likely to do so for fear of public backlash. And, of course, if laws were in place, then they would be less likely to do so for fear of sanction. As long as people feel comfortable with technological solutions, there won't be the social or legal changes which are necessary to truly protect privacy.

Secondly, the other thing that's wrong with your view of things, and this gets to my own personal dislike of a lot of the discussion in this thread, is that the kind of anonymity that people are taking for granted—this ability to segment many parts of your life from each other—is an extremely anomalous accident of contemporary urban culture. Most people throughout history have not lived anything like this. And I don't think that people should live like this. I am not contesting the utility of having numerous social identities—I do think there are some good things which arise from this. But I also think there are numerous other bad things which arise from it, too. I think it has a lot to do with how shaky and unstable people's identities are these days. Being able to recreate yourself to different people gets in the way of learning to differentiate between one's social and personal identities, and having a strong sense of who one is within the relationship of the two. It allows different social identities and one's personal identity to all be radically separate from each other, which means that someone could, for example, serially create novel social identities that substitute for a developed personal identity. Or, conversely, someone could have a distorted, unhealthy personal identity that exists independently of the reality check of the social identity it should be connected to.

For almost all of human history people have existed within relatively (compared to contemporary urban culture) small groups of people they know and are known by. This is the context in which we have both some inherent tools and also have long history of development of cultural tools. These tools are well-equipped to handle issues of privacy and of identity. Some of these aren't working well because our urban lives are distorted and interfere (and I don't think we should accept this present condition). Others of them aren't working in the context of the online world simply because the technology is too new for us to have assimilated it into our existing paradigm.

What's very urgently needed is for people to begin to demand that the online world works for us in the same way that the offline world does. That is to say, both issues of identity and privacy need to be understood to exist in the online world in exactly the same context as they do in the offline world. In the case of privacy, that means that people need to learn to demand that their privacy be respected, both by their acquaintances and by strangers and institutions. In the case of the former, people need to learn that, no, it's not polite to Google someone and read everything that comes up. Anything and everything available about a person online should be off-limits until and unless it is reasonable that one should know that stuff. And in the case of the latter, strangers and institutions, we need to demand that laws be passed that prevents our privacy from being invaded for profit or malice. There are offline things that advertisers aren't allowed to learn about us—there should be a number of things online they likewise shouldn't be allowed to learn about us.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:48 AM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, humans lived in small groups that were very "non private" for most of our evolutionary history— but that certainly didn't mean people didn't sneak around and do all manner of things in private and it was relatively easy and necessary to do so. There have also always been rituals like carnivals and ceremonies where the normal rules of behavior and identity are fluid. And, of course, there have been collisions between cultures and migration and leaving to join a different tribe with a new spouse that allowed one to remake oneself.

the idea that urban anonymity and multiplicity is truly new is false, I think. but what *is* new is the fixity of identity that something like Facebook can force across social spheres so that Grandma or your boss can see your party photos in ways that are harmful to all.

I think the development of things like LinkedIn where you can be your "work self" was pretty much inevitable and I know few people who would really want Facebook or any one site to have everything in one place.
posted by Maias at 6:29 PM on January 13, 2012


The public, deliberate compartmentalization of identity serves to cheapen the concept of identity as such.

I heartily approve of this.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:56 AM on January 15, 2012


What really prevents people from invading privacy is the social stigmatization against it. In our daily lives, with the people that we actually know and are around, those people have many, many opportunities all the time to invade our privacy. They can read our diaries and our mail and look at our hard drives and in our office drawers. They can ask our close friends very personal questions. They can lurk nearby when we have private conversations. They can take unwelcome photographs of us. They can tape record us when we talk on the phone with them. When they visit our home, they can look in the cupboards and in the closets. They can look in our purses and wallets.

The only thing that stops people from doing these things are common codes of behavior relating to personal privacy.


Well, sure. I would point out though, that when you talk about "people we actually know and are around" you're talking about people who in some sense invited into our private lives. In the physical world, if you want to read my diary you've got to be in my house. If you're in my house without my invitation, that's B&E, and if you're there at my invitation, then you're my guest. Of course there are both laws and customs and ettiquitte around those situations. So I think to some degree we're arguing past each other --- I was talking about things which are of strong personal relavence to me and which have the potential to be stigmitizing but which are nonetheless legally regarded as "public information." Arrest records, divorces, marriage and birth certificates, property records. So yeah, I would be offended if someone pulled my credit report before a first date. I would consider them creepy as hell. Legally, however, I wouldn't have a leg to stand on.

In my strong opinion—and I've thought about these issues carefully for years—technological means are the wrong way to try to solve this problem. The right way to solve the problem is the combination of adopting new privacy customs and enacting laws against privacy invasions by institutions and those who would mean us harm.

Sure. Again, I agree to a large extent with what you're saying. Take something like the introduction of cell phones, or even voice mail --- once, when I had a very boring intership with a lot of dead time on my hands, I read far, far back into the archives of Judith Martin, e.g., Miss Manners. And if you go back to her work from the early 80s or 90s, you can see people having these types of arguments about what to call the members of an umarried but longstanding couple, when and where to answer cell phones, etc.

But I would make an argument that I think is slightly orthogonal to your point: Technology matters. Changes in technology cause changes in society to which we then adapt, by changing our capacities. At any time since...well, ever...I might have wondered to myself if a person I was dating was all they appeared to be. I would have wanted to know if they had a criminal past or were a deadbeat. And there would have been cultural taboos about spending a lot of time hunting down info about their past without their knowledge and without ever meeting them (although the lines on that would have probably shifted around). But only now can I gratify that every flashing impulse of curiosity instantly, for nothing. Only now can I give into that temptation in a finger snap. The cost is gone.

And I think that changes things. The little flickering wonder was always there and isn't going away. And you'd have to fundamentally alter the technology to prevent its gratification --- strangely and amusingsly, the reason you'd have to do this is that the technology makes it possible to give in to that temptation entirely in private. To nick my diary you'd have to be in my house and face a non-neglible risk that I'll catch you. To crack the password on my Livejournal or friend my on facebook under a psuedonym or simply google-stalk me a little, just a little, maybe five pages deep --- well, you can do all that without anybody ever seeing you, without ever getting caught. The social conventions need a stick to work --- the horror of being caught, the shame of it. I'm sitting here in the dark with the glowing screen and the search bar and no stick in sight.

So: Yes, we need better laws. And yes, we need better customs. We need to adapt ourselves as a society. But when tech makes new things possible new things happen. And it shifts things, and it often shifts things in ways you can't merely argue or reason or even legislate back.

Secondly, the other thing that's wrong with your view of things, and this gets to my own personal dislike of a lot of the discussion in this thread, is that the kind of anonymity that people are taking for granted—this ability to segment many parts of your life from each other—is an extremely anomalous accident of contemporary urban culture.

How contemporary is your contemporary? I couldn't show more than one face to the world in ancient Rome? In fin-de-siecle Paris? In 1950s New York? Show me a city, I'll show you a thousand places to hide and to bloom.

Most people throughout history have not lived anything like this. And I don't think that people should live like this.

Bugger that. Or, to put it more politely, I strongly disagree. What did Dick Whitington go to London for? The possibility of the city --- the possibility of civilization, one of the great achievements of it --- is the possibility of breaking ties and establishing a new life for yourself, a new being, entirely independently of the identity you were born with (or better say, born to).

I am not contesting the utility of having numerous social identities—I do think there are some good things which arise from this. But I also think there are numerous other bad things which arise from it, too. I think it has a lot to do with how shaky and unstable people's identities are these days. Being able to recreate yourself to different people gets in the way of learning to differentiate between one's social and personal identities, and having a strong sense of who one is within the relationship of the two. It allows different social identities and one's personal identity to all be radically separate from each other, which means that someone could, for example, serially create novel social identities that substitute for a developed personal identity.

What does that mean, "a developed personal identity"? And why is it important? Does the fact that I might swear like a sailor in front of my friends but not my grandma indicate a fundamental hypocrisy in me which must be eradicated? Can't I smoke a bowl or attend a sermon on Sundays and wear my suit on Mondays, and keep each to each without defending either to each other? Why can't I get my Whitman on? What's wrong with that?

My problem with what facebook wants to do is not that it allows us to compartmentalize. It's that it forces to perform one self, and only one self, online. And online's where we're spending a lot more of our lives these days. I don't want to live in a world where everything I've ever said or done is three clicks away. I've seen modern political campaigns and they don't look like much fun. I don't want to have to explain myself all the time, and I don't want to live a life so pure I've never anything to explain, and I don't want to have to tell everyone I might meet who digs 90 percent of me to fuck right off if they don't like the 10 percent, particularly if the 10 is entirely irrelevant to our relationship to each other, and no matter how profound the or trivial (my spouse, my sports team, my favority TV show, my religion, my music, my love of asparagus) that 10 may be. Because really, that's my business. I own my life, and I ought to get to pick which bits of it I give out and not have 'em nicked.
posted by Diablevert at 3:32 PM on January 17, 2012


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