Sunday, October 08, 2006

Oversocialization - where's the value

We now know we have literally tens if not hundreds of digital identities out there in the world for each one of us – some of them constructed by us and some of them constructed by others.

As more and more of our sense of self beings to come from these digital identities it suggests that we as human beings are becoming the ghosts in the machine.

In the future our work and social lives, our intimate relationships, our perspective of the world, our complete identities may emanate from the digital realm. This isn’t a question of Echelon or DCS1000 (commonly called Carnivore) – these two projects will corrupt the trust of the common man but for the youth coming up through the system – enough is starting to be enough.

This is not a movement towards de-socialization or more mainstream definitions like querkyalone. This is also not a deep shift like Nietzsche was predicting by naming the opposite of slave morality as master morality.

But this is definitely a trend that will continue. Why?

Long term studies (several are here) show that there are two conflicting political movements in the world today - Socialism and Authoritarianism (the slow but steady drift to the right seen in several countries today). Simply defined, the defining characteristic of each is one distrusts the masters and wants the slaves to rise and the other distrusts the slaves and wants the masters to retain and expand their control.

Let’s face it; there is a strong correlation between ‘being connected’ and ‘being controlled’ – an even stronger correlation between self identity and public identity. We are becoming more transparent – ghosts in the machine – and that opens up opportunities for the two political deities to get their hooks in.

Think about it.

Both political positions are based on the tendency to think about other people and the consequent desire to influence their behavior and interact with them and the consequent desire to control them.

Connected - most people are inflicted with this desire, it's psychologically repellant to most people that others should be independent from them, that they should do their own thing and not be codependent with everyone else.

There is already the sense in a small way that meeting people face to face is a bit odd, especially for people like yourselves whose lives are deeply embedded in technology.

Meeting someone face to face – that is, really meeting them for a purpose - may someday be a very rare, unfamiliar and awkward event. We may begin to lose the ability to effectively communicate in a face to face world by losing the ability to interpret the verbal and non- verbal cues.

Moreover, the growth in the number of digital identities associated with us as individuals may lead ultimately to the fragmentation of the self – the inability to formulate and retain an integrated sense of ourselves.

This fragmentation of our identity into so many different pieces is obviously going to have consequences both for our psychological well- being and it is going to be interesting to see just how it affects our quality of life.

Learning more about how people construct and manage identities may provide some valuable insights in the information security arena. This suggests that concepts like Kim Cameron's 'Seven Laws of Identity' are an important advancement in identity management, there may indeed be a long way to go before we can apply some of the lessons to be learned.

This is coupled with the concept of ‘over-socialization’. Wired has just started to talk about the backlash of over-socialization but I think the trend has already started. Predicted in the ‘Unibombers Manuscript’ nearly 10 years ago, we are now starting to see the effects of constantly being accessible.

But being connected is not the whole story. Why aren’t we talking about the value of the connection – the impact of the connection? I think that if we were to consider these two variables into the equation – disconnected would be a great alternative.

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