I’ve been using Twitter and Facebook for a few months now and my general assessment is that these tools are useful for now. That’s about as good as it gets when evaluating technology, especially web apps that are doomed to obsolescence by the time you reach the end of this sentence. Do not misunderstand me: I’m not complaining. I like my shiny new web toys. They’ve allowed me to get back in touch with people I thought lost forever (hi, Joe and Amy!). They’ve even allowed me to find some of the people I tried to escape after High School and shown me that they turned out to be, 15 years later, fully grown adults who have mellowed and matured into interesting people with fully developed lives and hopes and dreams. Who knew?
As this blog approaches it’s sixth anniversary and it occurs to me that I’ve have had an online presence for more than a decade, I look back and am amused and amazed at how things have changed. I’ve seen various incarnations of social networking come and go. Some new technology has truly revolutionized the way we communicate to the point where we no longer even realize how much they effect us or what the world was like before them. Meanwhile, other pieces of tech have become momentary novelties that have eventually fallen away. One thing I have recently realized is that, as these newish types of communication become more refined and their usefulness accepted by the general public, there is one problem that is becoming very apparent. I’m talking about those poor fools who still use Internet Handles.
Please, it’s not 1996 any more.Your concern about your precious anonymity is duly noted but your cutesy nickname is no longer amusing. Facebook, for all it’s flaws, got something right: the insistence that real people use their real names. This, more than anything else will be their legacy– legitimizing social interaction on the web between people who previously were reluctant to do so, as they were put off by the prevalence of those weirdos who hid behind alter egos or naked power fantasies condensed into alphanumeric palindromes. Those people, the lingering weirdos are now the subject of jokes because they missed something that happened only about a year ago: regular people started using the Internet in ways that previously only web geeks did. And with this influx of people who want to be recognized, found out and seen, it just makes those who don’t look all the more ridiculous.
Nowhere is the silliness of the persistent use of Internet Handles made more transparent then on Twitter. You’ve got 140 characters to share with friends what’s going on behind your eyeballs. You want your grandma to know you call yourself Vampirellasucker69? How about a potential employer? I’m sure that will make for some fun interview questions. And try sharing that funny joke with friends by retweeting a message from @buttercupsbabydady2248. You may have to knock off the punchline. Now that’s innovation.
That Handle may have seemed cool when you were 17 and couldn’t conceive of a life beyond turning 21. But it turns out the Internet, whatever else it may be, is also an elephant. It never forgets. And since standard HR procedure for many companies now includes Googling potential interviewees, you’d better hope that they don’t find that page from ten years ago, the one with naked pictures of you in Cancun during your bisexual phase. We may not judge you on the Internet but your new employer might not be as forgiving.
Turns out there really is a permanent record and this really is going down on it.
And of course those Handles tend to cheapen any legitimate research that ends up attached to your Etherbody. In the world of academia, we’ve started to figure out ways to cite people who make contributions to the pool of general knowledge on the Internet. This is a necessity, because information and research is free form and no longer locked down to peer reviewed journals. it’s everywhere, especially in fields that study social interaction, like anthropology, cultural studies and new media. This sudden ubiquity of reference material and research is useful in any number of ways, but however you use it, there remains one eternal issue that plagues librarians everywhere, since the beginning of time: the need to cite your source. Whether it’s on Flikr, Wikipedia or in a comment thread on Boing Boing, your little nugget of info may be captured in the wild, tagged and appear on the nightly news or in a scholarly journal. And frankly, it’s just embarrassing to cite Lazerboy, MunchkinMan and HeatherBunnyfluff as authors. It tends to cheapen the whole affair.
The Internet is many things but it is not Never Never Land. It’s not the refuge from the real world it once was and eventually, every Tinkerbell348 and PeterpanMan has to grow up. Now that we’re starting to use the Internet for more than just porn delivery and auctioning off our old stuff, there needs to be development in not just social technologies but social etiquette. But until the Emily Post of the Web arrives, we’re on our own. In some ways though, we can already see some vague outline of the future of online social interaction. The first step in getting there and making it worthwhile is to drop the cheeky alias and just be yourself, for better or worse.
Hi, my name is Keith Kisser. What’s your name?
1. Yes, I lurked in chat rooms. I even chatted some. They were the forum of the day, before blogs but after newsgroups. Talk to me in 3 years when we’re all embarrassed by Twitter.
2. Do you remember what the Internet was like before Google? Utter chaos. Some people think that it still is but just underscores how quickly we’ve gotten used to the mediation of Google. It’s become such a familiar piece of furniture, it’s sudden absence would make the room seem strange and alien.
3. I suspect Twitter and Facebook as discrete systems will eventually die off but not before they interbreed to make some fun and interesting little hybrids that will flourish in the web 3.0 world (or whatever the hell it’ll be called in 5 years). Evolution works fast here in what we used to call Hyperspace.
4. And getting hammered and posting those pictures of you puking all over yourself on My Space. Sure it seemed like a good idea when you were 21 but now that you’re 26, fresh out of grad school and trying to get hired during a Depression, you may want to scrub your avatar’s image a bit. I recommend just deleting your My Space page altogether.
5. And while I’m all for a more relaxed and less stuffy attitude in academia, I’d also like to be able to provide attribution without blushing.