Facebook has been rolling out its yet-another-“why hello there, new privacy” settings to you and to me in various alerts and yellow dialog boxes over the last week, providing me the chance to once again wonder whether I like this constant opportunity to reappraise what I share with whom and when.
As often occurs to me when I’m thinking of gardens and walls like these, I think of Logan’s Run. As the Old Man says:
You know, they’ve each got three names. Yes. The naming of cats is a difficult matter, It’s just not one of your holiday games; You may think at first that I am mad as a hatter, When I tell you that each cat’s got three different names. See, they got their ordinary name and then they got their fancy name. And that makes two names, doesn’t it? And now it’s got a third name. Can either of you two guess what that third name is? Come on! Above and beyond, there’s one name that’s left over, and this is the name you never will guess. The name that no human research can discover, but the cat itself knows, and never will confess.
(Abridged from The Naming of Cats by T.S. Eliot)
It’s true. Like everybody, I have many faces. The Moya Watson you read here is usually carefully — sometimes even thoughtfully — crafted. I guess you could say this is my “fancy name.” (Though if you look to my earlier writings, they’re a lot more internal-monologue — imported from the nascent days of Blogger.)
Whereas, the moyalynne on Twitter is probably my “ordinary name.” This is my every-day “I’d rather be skiing than going to work” or “My daughter just said the most amazing thing” or “I just spilled my coffee”-silverware — and it’s published, for everyone, to see. It’s easy. Just like that.
AND THEN there’s Facebook. The Moya Watson on Facebook — like many — opens up a bit more in moments and images of herself and her family (usually ironically finding more nurture for this openness within the walled gardens of this closed environment). But she does this with people she knows, whereas with Twitter, she gets to meet people she never before knew.
Well, it was a somewhat easy distinction. Facebook, in starting to poke holes in that T.S.-Eliot-like interface, is drawing into a bigger Web of confusion. And the more we can tweak more of exactly who sees what and where (if we can fathom the Privacy Settings UI), the more the “Moya Watson of Facebook” finds she becomes an enigma.
It’s constantly strange to me when the freedom to just be who you are increases exponentially with more layers of protection. While no “social network” yet exists for the me inside my head, the name only I know and shall never confess, if it escaped it would probably — and then in that act itself — resemble little of me anyway.
At the present, I simply close those yellow alert boxes and find it’s too much worry trying to remain consistent and definitely too alienating for my psyche to have “the ability to control who sees each individual piece of content you create or upload.” I’m finding I worry less and less about when all these people converge, and simply just exist. Maybe even (gasp) not post. It’s the “Look at your palm! The Crystal! It’s clear!” moment.
Logan, look! Look at your palm. The crystal. It’s clear … We’re free! It must be
And yet, I post.
“It works both ways — you’ve told me that yourself. Our free exchange of information means swifter progress, even if we do give away a few secrets… We’ll show them that Democracy can get to the moon first.”
Arthur C. Clarke — Childhood’s End — 1953
I had an incredible heart-to-heart with a colleague last week. We were talking about openness vs. closedness, specifically in the world of large enterprises.
This colleague has learned some tricky lessons recently, when work that was achieved was not acknowledged where he thought it counted most. Worse, he witnessed what seemed like more powerful factions taking credit for things that other people had directly initiated or even achieved — unacknowledged. He’s now working within an effort to determine how people can get their due credit for their work. Nearly painfully, he recounted how it’s now his impression that when you work in an open atmosphere, you wind up being punished and even exploited. In the future, his colleagues should learn to contemplate hiding their work until the work is quite ready. This was not his initial attitude.
Herein lies the struggle between openness and closedness — the struggle, some would say, between “Web 2.0” and the enterprise itself. Learning to hide, to me, is risky and counter to productivity and collaboration. The risk is that you focus so much more on hiding your work than actually working that innovation is stifled. And by the way — you’re also not very nice sometimes. If colleagues need help and you don’t stand to gain anything from it, you don’t help, which I find risky to the soul. (Maybe what matters is only whether you can live with yourself either way.)
No, I don’t think that organizations, or people, need to be either all open or all closed, nor do I behave exclusively openly – far from it. But I do know that personally, for me, my life has been a heck of a lot more fulfilling when I approach it openly and I don’t have to hide. I’m more productive within an open, cooperative environment in which information flows freely and people (gasp) help each other. This is “the generosity of the Internet” (as I heard Caterina Fake once describe it) and it resonates with me.
And yes, my colleague is right. I understand that within a system of imbalance of power, openness is perceived to lead to exploitation. True, start-ups also have “stealth modes” for a reason, and if you share your work early on, you are at risk for someone else more powerful taking credit for it or even taking it all together. And I’m sure this doesn’t even begin to compare to the world of academia, where credit for ideas is *everything.* So am I naive? Surely. I keep sharing, helping my colleagues and my neighbors and virtual strangers and friends online whenever I can. At least, it’s the world that I need to live in.
Ultimately I have learned I have all the power I need: I have the power to tell my own story, to speak out where and when I see fit, to speak against injustice and praise generosity, to value collaboration and participation, and, if the system no longer supports it, to no longer participate. And I do thank “the generosity of the Internet” for that.