Social Reboot

Might be time to get off Facebook, depending on the level of violation you feel about the recent Beacon revelations.

Far more interesting to me though is Cory Doctrow’s observation that you are going to want to get off Facebook at some point anyway, no matter how much you like it. As he points out we shed our skin quite a few times in real-life, so who the hell wants a persistent identity?

 It’s not just Facebook and it’s not just me. Every “social networking service” has had this problem and every user I’ve spoken to has been frustrated by it. I think that’s why these services are so volatile: why we’re so willing to flee from Friendster and into MySpace’s loving arms; from MySpace to Facebook. It’s socially awkward to refuse to add someone to your friends list — but removing someone from your friend-list is practically a declaration of war. The least-awkward way to get back to a friends list with nothing but friends on it is to reboot: create a new identity on a new system and send out some invites (of course, chances are at least one of those invites will go to someone who’ll groan and wonder why we’re dumb enough to think that we’re pals).

That’s why I don’t worry about Facebook taking over the net. As more users flock to it, the chances that the person who precipitates your exodus will find you increases. Once that happens, poof, away you go — and Facebook joins SixDegrees, Friendster and their pals on the scrapheap of net.history.

What Cory is onto here fascinates me — because it’s not only that creepy guy friending you that’s the problem.

Life, or at least modern American life,  is built around the possibility of the social reboot. We move constantly, change jobs frequently, and keep only the relationships worth keeping from those previous locations. We get to redefine ourselves to some extent, by shedding our social skin. We don’t always have to be what we were in our hometown, or college, or first job. We can throw away a whole set of the expectations around us with a simple job or location hop. When we start to feel a little too hemmed in, that’s often exactly what we do.

And whether or not we admit it, most of us love the freedom.

In modern American life, persistent identity is the exception, not the norm, the province of your brother and Mom, not your friends.

In fact, if I were to define Family, I’d define it as that social application that you can’t fix by rebooting. Which is a joy and a burden, of course.

But the problem is in a persistent identity network everybody becomes family. You can’t escape them. You can’t reboot your locale or your job. You have to blog as a Democrat and have your Republican high school friends read it. You have to deal with the people that will forever remember you as the guy that did the funnel of Wild Irish Rose in Fiske Hall. You have to tell all your Catholic school buddies that your now an atheist instead of just letting that one quietly slip under the radar.

I’m with Cory. The best feature of Facebook is I know at some point I’ll be out of it. God save us from persistent identity societies, and long live the social reboot.

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