thoughts on the social graph
The difficulty of facebook lay in it’s ability to describe the path of our lives. It is the point against which we can see both our past and our present. The roots from which we sprang, the present to which we belong, and by reflecting upon the two the future to which we are destined. It would not be a difficulty except that it is not simply a tool for our reflection and the reflection of those with whom we wish to share but also a tool by which the, shall we say, “graph” of our lives can be viewed by others whose intentions may be more aligned with manipulation than with growth and understanding.
By openly feeding our social relationships, by openly contributing to the domain of public social knowledge, we risk exposing ourselves not simply to those who we wish to grant the privilege of “relationship” but also to those who would spy quietly on our lives in search of opportunities to guide us toward their ends. Those ends, be they political, commercial, or personal are not necessarily wrong, they are not necessarily mis-saligned with our own desires or the puzzle into which we see ourselves fitting, they are however hidden.
My lineage ties me to propriety and holding things close to my chest. What I have learned leads me to believe that the “best” outcomes come from open communication, full disclosure, and sharing. I know much of who I am by knowing who you are. What each of us is, we are together. It is knowledge of the spectrum which allows us to understand the qualities of individual color.
With facebook however a large segment of that spectrum has been blacked out. Not only can we not say what occupies it’s space we can also not say where that space is. What is it’s relationship to the information we give it about our lives; what does it consume and how does it react to that consumption, what does it produce and what are it’s intentions with it’s production?
Those questions are difficult enough when we ask them of each other, when we ask them of our future selves, or of the future relationships we may have with others. With Facebook, Google, or any centralized system however their importance increases by an order of magnitude. Friends disappear, family becomes distant, employers come and go, none of these apply more than a little brainpower to predicting or influencing the course of our lives. When they do so they often open themselves to equitable levels of influence and scrutiny, which is to say that there is reciprocal trust.
The difficulty of facebook, or any centralized social graph I suppose, is that it exploits the trust which we feel with each other to feed an agenda which it does not disclose. It encourages community without subjecting itself to the responsibilities that being a member of that community entails.