Public Connections

Great piece from Danah Boyd on her blog about the way Internet and social media makes it easy for people to document and publish their thoughts and feelings…and the effect it has on people’s behavior and relationships.

“The presence of others who see what we see and hear what we hear assures us of the reality of the world and ourselves.” — Hannah Arendt

Have you ever found yourself not saying something that is on your mind because you’re afraid that if you say it, it will become real? This is a really interesting conundrum in the context of blogging because it has to do with the ways in which public performances make ideas real. Arendt argues that one of the primary roles of the public is to make things real. People seek out witnesses to validate their emotions, ideas, actions, or mere existence. Our stories become real when we have other people to share them with, when other people saw and experienced what we experienced. Having no access to public life can be maddening (literally) because everything might as well be a fable with no witnesses to validate what took place.

The Internet has allowed us to take the most “intimate” thoughts and ideas and perform them in a public before witnesses. This makes real every neurosis and stupid act – stuff that might simply have slipped away before. It makes it possible to be heard.

Of course once you make public a bunch of private things like your relationship, you need to undo them publicly as well if things don’t work out…Check out this youtube video of a UNC Pit student who decided to have a public breakup on valentine’s day:

I suspect, the ease with which the Internet enables people to go public, even changes dynamics of relationships…Anybody remember the speed dial episode on Sienfeld…now imagine kids, who are dealing with growing up and building up a more mature public persona, having a rich and public equivalent of the speed dial list. It isn’t hard to imagine, how kids will use the web to communicate various transitory feelings and crushes and regret some of those public communications later. No wonder their are companies like ReputationDefender that just focus on cleaning up online histories of kids.

Now the effect of public nature of connections might not just be limited to kids either. LinkedIn provides a good example of public connections that more and more adults are using. Using LinkedIn people can browse people’s professional networks. Now there are people on LinkedIn who have a huge number of connections. Some of these people build up these connections without really even meeting the person (I am sure you get such connection requests as well). I suspect its the public nature of the linked in connections that compels people to establish these useless connections…What do you guys think?


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