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Impression Management

The Styles section of today's New York Times has a report on research being conducted by social scientists into how people represent themselves online.

Their line of inquiry leaves me cold. It's important for marketers and advertisers to understand current online social behavior, of course. But current online behavior reveals little about the true social impact of digital technologies and the Web.

Of course people put forth a public persona in public fora. They do so now more than ever, because there are more public fora available than ever and the majority of computer users were born before 1980. Though we may be facile with digital technologies, those of us older than 28 are not native users. We remember a world before mobile phones, the Web, a computer on every desktop, and constant pervasive connectivity. Most of us older than 28 have different definitions of public and private than those born after 1980.

What I want to understand is how social networking technologies are blurring the lines between public and private behavior, particularly as more and more people born after 1980 into a world that was digitally connected are entering adult life. What formerly inappropriate public behavior has become acceptable? How much of our public personae are we incorporating into our private lives?

We've all experienced how mobile phones have brought private moments into the public sphere. We've walked pass people screaming or sobbing with a cell phone held to their ears; we've overheard fear and heartbreak and myriad other emotions once confined to solitary experience. To what extent—if at all—are the boundaries of the public and private shifting with the social Web?


Nate said...

Great thoughts on an important subject, playful librarian. I think that the social web is beginning to change physical space in a couple of different ways. Further commentary here:

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