I’m not sure Mark Zuckerberg is going to think the world is “open” enough ‘til we’re writing our bank details in the sky; sharing our sexual histories with our employers and sending pictures of ourselves on the toilet to elderly relatives. He’s taken time out from his efforts to make each detail of Facebook users’ lives accessible at the click of a button to write this letter to shareholders…
People sharing more — even if just with their close friends or families — creates a more open culture and leads to a better understanding of the lives and perspectives of others. We believe that this creates a greater number of stronger relationships between people, and that it helps people get exposed to a greater number of diverse perspectives.
But it depends entirely on what you’re sharing. Would sharing my conversations with friends while drinking in our local pub strengthen my relationship with my Grandmother? No. Would sharing that photograph of myself in Year 10 with spots and screwy teeth strengthen a relationship with a prospective partner? No. Our relationships depend, to some extent, on the selective exposure and indulgence of facets of our character. I’m not saying there’s no continuity – few of us, thank Christ, are outright Patrick Batemans – but our personalities are broad enough to allow us to explore and express different features of ourselves in the environments they suit.
Allow George Costanza to make my point for me. His fiance’s barged into his friendship group…
“…right now, I have Relationship George, but there is also Independent George. That’s the George you know, the George you grew up with – Movie George, Coffee shop George, Liar George, Bawdy George.”
“I, I love that George.”
“Me too! And he’s dying Jerry! If Relationship George walks through this door, he will kill Independent George! A George, divided against itself, cannot stand!”
With the occasional exception for people who are lovely to their Mums then go to beat up debtors these behavioural adaptations are normal and perfectly healthy. Yet they’re hard to maintain if the record of them can be viewed at any time by anyone. As George said – and, yes, I know that using George Constanza to represent the common man is problematic – “WORLDS ARE COLLIDING!”
A related issue is the permanence of information on the Internet (more relevant than ever as Facebook tries to introduce “Timeline”; a feature that allows one to easily access content someone uploaded in the past). Tech utopians insist that if you’ve said or done something you’d like to keep a secret it’s your fault for saying or doing it in the first place. But that’s bollocks. Again there are obvious exceptions: if the act is something hugely consequential it’s probably so demonstrative of yourself that it’s worth others knowing, and if you’re so influential that the fullness of your character is public knowledge you’re in less of a position to complain.
For most of us, though, some things are best forgotten. This is true inasmuch as the average person should be allowed to make mistakes and move beyond them: arguments; messy breakups; ill-considered views; things, in other words, that represent passing misjudgements and shouldn’t be allowed to define one’s character. Then there are inevitable moments of unpleasantness we all experience but have to contain in certain places and restrict to certain times. Here’s an example: moaning about friends and colleagues when they’re not around. (You do it – right?) It needn’t be indicative of overall ill-feeling for them but temporal frustrations that should be released and put behind oneself. Yet if they’re permanently stamped onto the Internet the feelings that inspired them seem relevant long after they stopped being felt – like a wound anyone can re-open long after it should have healed.
The death of privacy, in other words, won’t be like a cocoon falling away to reveal the butterflies of our personalities but is liable to inhibit peoples’ self expression. To avoid embarrassment – as well to indulge the ineradicable human desire for conformity – they could be more protective of their secrets and more guarded in the opinions they offer; ensuring that rather than allowing for “a greater number of diverse perspectives” people are homogenised. In the knowledge that anyone could be watching, and that whatever they publish could be reproduced at any time, the instinctive adaptations that typify the slight shifts in behaviour I’ve written of could be replaced by a grimly conscious, calculating selectivity. Oh, and girls will upload photos of themselves and receive dozens of tributes too effusive to be taken seriously. Don’t know what inspired that, but it’s very odd.