Anil Dash’s blog post last week on The Facebook Reckoning includes this terrific summary of what’s at stake for us in inventing our new, social media-ted society:
But what if I weren’t my own boss? What if my family couldn’t accept parts of my identity? What if I weren’t technologically savvy enough to know how to engage with all of the choices about public sharing that Facebook forces me to understand? What if it were important to my own personal identity that public representations of me be colored purple instead of blue, as on Facebook? It’s easy to say all of our choices and all the aspects of our identity can be shared if we don’t face any serious social or personal consequences for doing so. But most of us are not that fortunate.
Dash wrote specifically about how the personal experiences and quirks of the Facebook team have affected the Facebook platform, effectively making decisions about privacy for millions of people who (for the reasons above) may not be comfortable or even engaged with the decisions Facebook is making.
But the implications of Dash’s argument extend far beyond Facebook, and far beyond the question of privacy. The groundwork for the next era in our culture — an era in which our work, lives and relationships will exist online as much as off — are being set without the conscious engagement of most of our current society’s members. They’re being set by whomever happens to build the next hot Internet platform, informed by whatever particular social milieu or psychological issues made those people who they are.
It may be fine for the market to pick the winners and losers of the next round of IPOs: for us to vote with our (virtual) feet in choosing whose particular worldview or neuroses will be part of our daily Internet use, and thus to decide which platforms and communities will thrive. But a “vote with your feet” policy is not a great basis for shaping a new set of cultural norms, particularly when so few people feel empowered to make conscious decisions about how to spend their time online, let alone see themselves as shaping a new online society.