Over the last year I have become acutely aware of how visible my presence online has become. From Facebook to Foursquare to Twitter to LinkedIn to OkCupid and even a Myspace account I can’t delete because I didn’t create it, no longer have the password and it has a misspelled email address (that last one is pretty rough). What’s more, I expect over the next 5 years the number of places and kinds of data on me publicly available online will balloon in size rapidly (Think Blippy. Even just 10 years ago society would have simply said “WTF guys”).
My initial reaction was to reduce my exposure while I still could and carefully tailor what I kept visible. While this was absolutely a reasonable and necessary starting point, I have since then shifted my opinion almost 180 degrees. This post is to justify why I think it is in my best interest to embrace openness almost universally.
Because this topic is of immense interest to me, this will be a series of posts weakly organized as follows. Why openness online is good for me, why it is good for society, tools for maintaining yourself online and venues to express yourself, and finally the dangers in it. This is a heavily discussed topic online and I could probably link you to about 30 posts better than this exploring the topic, but then I might as well just post a lmgtfy.com link and be done with it.
Several months ago, I went through every post, message, picture, etc of myself on Facebook. This took several hours and started out as a house cleaning chore and ended as the extremely emotional task of reflecting on my life as a college student. It gave me the opportunity to make a concrete analysis of myself based on a carefully recorded history like almost no one has been able to do ever before. My personality changed so drastically over the period of 3 1/2 years I was barely able to recognize what I was really thinking for many of the early snippets I went through. While it wasn’t this that planted the seed, it was definitely this that first nourished my thoughts of moving to the Bay Area. I could go into a dozen different things I took note of and how each was/is/will be valuable to me, but the point that matters here is that this is something I want to be able to do again (hopefully with more powerful metrics and more diverse data at my disposal).
You might say this is independent of openness and that I could have accomplished this with a diary but I disagree. Much of what I found most interesting was my interactions with others. Had this been documented in a diary, filtered by my biases and personality, I doubt I would have had the same reactions to it (though possibly equally meaningful ones).
While this could be accomplished in many ways, consciously maintaining an open online presences gives me multiple opportunities throughout the day to briefly take inventory of my thoughts, mood and environment. Almost daily, I find out I am in an awful mood and need to realign; or realize I am doing something amazing and remind myself to take the time to appreciate it. This impossible to quantity side effect of regularly posting a tweet or status update or foursquare check in brings tangible benefits daily. There are very few other things I can say that about in my life (and probably many more that are daily negatives in my life).
It is therapeutic for me. As almost anyone I have ever had a close relationship with will tell you, I am very guarded with my feelings and I am generally reluctant, if not down right hostile, to regular communication especially when I am the subject of conversation. In retrospect, I am almost universally disappointed in the level and quality of input I have given in every frank, emotionally charged moment shared with others. By being more frank and open to the entire world I am slowly becoming much more capable at acting the same with individuals (One rather negative caveat to this is that I often justify not contacting the people I am close to with the idea that they can just as easily keep up with me online as if that is a suitable substitute for direct communication).
I have always been in a hurry to do things. High school took too long so I left early. Same with college. I always run up stairs. I eat way to fast. I hate writing because it is so much slower than thinking. I speed in my car like I have a death wish. Being anywhere more than a few moments makes me antsy. The list could go on and on. I think (or at least hope) this is all due to me being in a hurry to make an impact on the world. The internet is the most powerful tool the individual has for impacting the world. So it makes perfect sense that if you want to get anything done, leveraging the internet is your best bet for doing it. If the internet doesn’t know who you are, good luck asking it to do something for you.
Finally, whether you agree with anything else I have said or not, it is undeniable that this is the way of the future. So you can either ride the wave or get smothered by it. How long do you really think you have before you won’t be able to order a pizza without your online handle? Apply to a job without an online portfolio? Vote in elections through anything but an online portal with your verified online ID? Buy a plane ticket, rent a car, book a hotel room, etc? Not to mention have any idea what anyone around you is doing. Already I decide what events I am going to attend almost entirely online.
I am of the opinion that establishing a presence in the spot light on my terms is infinitely better than being dragged kicking and screaming into it on everyone else’s. So throw open the gates to your life and put out a digital welcome mat to the world. If you don’t then the only people that will have all of your information will be the ones you don’t want to but that already do. Namely, the Googles of the world, the Government and the creepy guy with binoculars across the street.
Part II: Why it is good for society coming soon.
If anyone is wondering, all of my online profiles are configured to be totally public. The only exception is for content about me not posted directly by me, but most of this is also available.