20 June 2012
One Self Is Not Enough
I’m Jesse Pollak, a rising sophomore at Pomona College. This summer, I’m a hackNY Fellow and technical intern at BuzzFeed. To assist in my learning process, I’ve decided to write a blog post every day: today is day 31. You can follow me on twitter or keep reading my blog.
Today, I had the good fortunate to listen to Chris Poole, better known as moot, talk at the twice weekly hackNY speaker series. The entirety of his talk was entertaining and insightful, but one section really resonated with me. We were discussing identity and anonymity on the internet and, as things often do, talk turned to Facebook. Coming from 4chan, Chris is very supportive of the power of anonymity. Accordingly, it’s unsurprising that he doesn’t fully support Facebook’s push to make the entire internet tied to a single, real, identity. His rationale, however, was more insightful than the usual attack on Facebook’s strategy.
The most commonly used argument for anonymity on the web is that it promotes free speech by releasing people from the inhibitions that come with responsibility. Chris, however, approached the issue from a different angle. He suggested that Facebook’s idea of “authentication” and “authenticity” assumes, and promotes, the idea that everyone has a single personality; that the essence of a human can be boiled down to a single self. Instead, Chris suggests that people have multiple personalities, each tuned to a different social group, interest vertical, or atmosphere. While some might argue that these ‘personalities’ are really an attempt to ‘fit in,’ or a sign of lack of self confidence, my experiences have made me believe that Chris’ analysis is correct.
Growing up, I had two very distinct sets of friends: one from my neighborhood and one from school. These friends didn’t really know each other and, as I grew older, it became harder and harder to balance my time between the two. One Saturday in 7th grade, I was hanging out with my friends from school, but planning on leaving them that evening to see my other friends. They kept pestering me about why I was ditching them, so I eventually said what would turn out to be a very fateful line: “you guys don’t even know part of me, I have a whole different life.” For the rest of that day, and pretty much all the way through high school, I was mocked for saying something so stupid. And, while it was all in good fun, there was still the underlying implication that such an idea was inherently idiotic.
Looking back, I must admit that I think I was completely right. These two distinct sets of people had different customs, jokes, gossip, slang, etc etc. And, while at the heart I was the same person in both, in a lot of ways I was really different: I thought different things, had different conversations, and developed two separate personalities.
Today, those two groups, and personalities, have faded together, but I’ve seen my persona split in different ways. After a brief self analysis, I focused in on the three primary spaces I operate in: a social sphere, a technology/startup sphere, and an athletic sphere. In each, just like in middle school, there are different customs, jokes, gossip, slang, etc etc. And, in each, I project a different personality, which doesn’t often get shown in the others. Unsurprisingly, you can see these separate identities in my online presence: on Twitter, I primarily discuss technology, startups, and what I’ve been up as a professional. On Facebook, I joke with friends, post stupid comments, and do things that might be a little unsightly. And, in the soccer email chain we have…we’ll I won’t go into that. I don’t talk tech on Facebook (usually) and certainly never with the soccer team. Yes, there is some overlap, but not very much.
If Facebook accomplished its goal of unifying the online identity into a single self, I would lose the ability to maintain these seperate spheres. Something, which I don’t think anyone would enjoy—not my college friends on Facebook, my technology contacts in the startup world, nor my Sagehen teammates.
I don’t foresee Facebook succeeding (in the sense I’m talking about) any time soon, but I still think it’s important to realize what’s at stake.
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