May 12 2010
Growing up, I must have watched “Bill Cosby, Himself” at least 40 times. I can recite most of it to you from memory even today. I’ll spare you that trauma, but Cosby has his finger on the pulse of cocaine (this whole clip is hilarious, but his discussion of cocaine starts at 3:30):
Cosby’s friends says that cocaine “intensifies your personality.” And social media does the same thing: it creates a platform for engaging in purely social experiences. Social experiences are, naturally, driven by personality. So, it’s really no surprise that this intensification exists – after all, the platform was designed for personality.
But, when Cosby’s friend says that cocaine intensifies your personality, Cosby’s retort is swift: “Yes, but what if you’re an asshole?”
And that is the real power of social: the long term, game changing position for social media is that it is changing behavior. It is changing our ideas about privacy. And, it’s forcing people to not be such assholes.
Recently, there have been several high profile Facebook defections (Leo Laporte, Matt Cutts, and Steve Tuttle – oh, wait, he abandoned last year!), in response to Facebook forcing open the front door to your internet-house, and opening up almost your entire life to publicly indexed search results.
Many people may feel uncomfortable with that question because of their personal feelings about privacy. But, the norms around privacy are changing. Penelope Trunk says what many young people already believe: your privacy is overrated. The process may move in fits and starts – with some people “rebelling” or “opting out” but that will only be newsworthy because those people will be at the margin. I mean, the Amish are interesting too (by the way, how crazy is it that even the Amish have their own websites?), but if you are reading this on a computer, you probably don’t want to *be* Amish – you just want to gawk a bit.
By and large, living our lives in public is doing something transformational for society: it’s teaching us not to be assholes.
Believe me, we are not there yet. There are still many, many assholes that use social media to intensify their personalities (and some that use cocaine, too). Even more insidious are the people that pretend to be all inclusive and friendly to all, but when you try to engage with them using social tools, you are ignored.
But, this is a long-term transition – think in decades, not months. And the net result is that by using social media, people will understand how to use their network better. In order to leverage their network, people will have to be nicer to each other.
And nicer people means less assholes (no thanks to cocaine).