Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Two Internet trends

Two interesting events have occurred recently that demonstrate a new development in the age of information.  Facebook reached half a billion users and WikiLeaks released thousands of classified documents about the Afghan war.  The interesting thing about Facebook is the way in which Internet users have abandoned anonymity by using their real names.  When I first started using the Internet, contributing to Wikipedia or posting on forums I tried to be careful in only using a handle and not a recognizable name. However as time passed, the internet changed and as an Anglican priest I've become a semi-public person. The challenge is being open about who I am without letting it all hang out in a way that's shameful.  This is where the other development comes into play, WikiLeaks.  As more records, correspondence and analysis becomes electronic, the potential for that information to be accessed and released at a later date or to other interested parties increases.  In the long term even if you actively seek anonymity on the Internet, all your activity and information will be stored somewhere.  I think the long term implications of these two trends will be a sharper delineation between on and off line activity.  Paper notes, face to face conversations and areas without internet connectivity will become the hallmarks of off-line behavior and confidentiality. It's not that the on and off line worlds will become indistinguishable but that a sharper delineation will emerge.


Alex Smith said...

Two good observations.

There's also an increased complication for public people, particularly in government, to determine which hat they are wearing when posting online. e.g. is it their personal opinion, their professional opinion, or their party line. I'm sure, even as an Anglican minister, that you would've faced this already.

In contrast to FaceBook, it's interesting that the online gaming world is still very opposed to using real names.

Jill said...

Interesting topic, Luke. I find the transparency of Facebook makes me think very carefully about what I post (but that may also be because my friends list includes both my husband & sons, and my bishop).

On the other hand, I think there are some contexts - a board I'm familiar with which is dedicated to "Christian Unrest" comes to mind - where it is helpful to have the freedom of expression that comes with anonymity. I value having a space where I can speculate about theological and other issues, or let of some steam about whatever is eating me at the time, with the protection of anonymity. Not all bishops are as tolerant as ours.

That being said, I recall a notable occasion on that board where one consistently crude and vitriolic poster had his cover blown, and was outed as a minister of religion. Many other posters were distressed and disillusioned that a man of the cloth could entertain the sort of thoughts he had regularly posted.

For me, the challenge is to live with integrity - on line and off line.

ish said...

The trend has a certain charm. There is something anciently wonderful about 2 heads bent togeither in deep conversation devoid of all electronics. (I'm visualizing Rembrandt's "Two Philosophers".) It's a nice irony that your conclusions might point in that direction for certain kinds of communication.