Andrew Keen was on a British TV program last night called Newsnight. They have recently hosted Clay Shirky, and I wasn’t surprised to see Andrew interviewed. Of course, he’s from the home country, too, so that fits nicely.
He was asked about his views on identity. Namely, Google’s Eric Schmidt’s declaration that some young ones may need to change their identities when they grow up. Simply to escape the bad press that trails behind them — or perhaps we should say, the bad search results.
Keen’s view, besides being terrified of a trend within tech circles for public identity and transparency, is that we have many identities. He loathes the notion that in the Facebook era we have but one identity (a statement made by Zuckerberg, it seems). And that Facebook, in particular, owns that identity.
I would disagree with Andrew that we have multiple identities. I think we have multiple relations, and in those relations may present a different face, may behave according to context and expectations, may play a role, and so on. Behavior is not identity. But I completely agree that in our social presence we’re more than just one “identity” — we’re multi-faceted and capable of playing many different parts.
If the question is whether or not we have one address online — that is one identity online — then of course this should be ours to own and to access, not Facebook’s.
But the conversation Eric Schmidt managed to poke is not about online identity. It’s about privacy and protections and the fact that many of us do not think about legacy from that point in the future when the social capital gained by partying is now a withering tattoo — an homage to youth best kept out of view.
Keen is right to be terrified. The culture of now is the culture of realtime talk and interaction — mediated yes, but still basically social talk. The culture of now is conversation, it’s not information. But it leaves information behind. And as far as we can tell those companies that make a living from the association of information and advertising have every reason in the world to capture realtime social content for its realtime business value.
One act of communication — one photo shared, one comment posted or location tweeted, creates two kinds of value. Value as conversational message; and value as information saved (to be mined, analyzed for semantic refs and sentiment, etc).
Are the consequences of the latter, where information drives the social web economy, the responsibility of the former, where people like us are simply using social web tools to commune and communicate? Or should the organizations that profit from realtime content protect rights and privacy of all those of us who use the medium — even though we use it, often, precisely because it creates partial public exposure?
There’s no social contract in place for this. And if history is any guide, tears will flow and lawyers will keep the couriers busy. It struck me as remarkably out of line that Schmidt would say such a thing of so many of his customers. But I had to agree.