Recently both Meredith Farkas and, in response, Roy Tennant have commented on the changing professional conversation — the difficulty of keeping it up with it all (Twitter and Facebook and Google+, oh my!) and the fragmentation of conversations, and selves, across all these spaces. One of the questions they both raise is, what if we lose something?
We monitor so much information across these sites. It sticks in some quiet corner of our heads where it emerges a month later, relevant to something, and then we wonder, where did we find it, and our search tools are not up to the task, and it’s frustrating.
And we are fragmented. There are bits of self here, there, everywhere. Lots of people want more federation, a way to unify identities across sites, a way to stream content from lots of places into one interface, to make it easier to keep track of and keep up with. What if we lose something?
I am more concerned with another question: what if we don’t?
danah boyd talks about digital chaffing, staying active online so that the new stuff that represents you drowns out the old, so that when people search for you they see you today. I’ve been online since 1991 and I would certainly rather people find the me of today when they search. I find it helpful that bits of my teenage identity can be lost, or at least obscured: that in being me today I don’t have to grapple simultaneously with being me in 1991, that my audience can interact with me now and other bits can be quietly lost. I trust the teenagers of today would find it handy, as they apply for college or jobs, that their youthful indiscretions and experiments with identity could be quietly lost — but they, unlike me in 1991, live in the post-Google era and don’t have that option.
Or, at least, they don’t have that option in a world of federation, a world which via code and norms drives people toward having the same identity on every site. Bits of me can be quietly lost to public view while remaining available to the communities where they matter because I tack hard away from federation. You want to know why I care so much that pseudonymity matters: this is a big part of why.
What happens if things aren’t lost? What happens if you, today, are presumed to equally own every viewpoint you have ever held, and expected to equally defend them? What if you are presumed to have precisely the level of knowledge, or wisdom, or skill, or maturity you had in 2010 — and 2001 — and 1991, because nothing is ever lost? What happens if you must stand by every bit of ephemera, every trial balloon, every joke and piece of sarcasm, everything that plays right to one audience when you’re talking to another, because nothing is ever lost? What happens when you have to carry, always, all the weight of everyone you’ve ever been, and it might spring up at you from any corner at any time, without warning? How do you become the next person you’re going to be?
Even our cells wither and die and turn over. It’s okay if our information does too. Ephemera can be ephemera. It’s okay. It’s better.