Actually, it’s silly to talk about anyone creating the social web. Ideas get added, mixed, discarded, mutated and something emerges. However, the social web requires some sort of notion of what identity is, and how it is shared. In his work, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Eggers writes about the freedom in sharing who you are, because there is always a separation between the who that you share and the who that you are.
“I give you all the best things I have, and while these things are things that I like, memories that I treasure, good or bad, like the pictures of my family on my walls I can show them to you without diminishing them. I can afford to give you everything…We feel that to reveal embarrassing or private things….we have given someone something, that, like a primitive person fearing that a photographer will steal his soul, we identify our secrets, our pasts and their blotches, with our identity, that revealing our habits or losses or or deeds somehow makes one less of oneself. But it’s just the opposite, more is more is more–more bleeding, more giving. These things, details, stories, whatever, are like the skin shed by snakes, who leave theirs for anyone to see…Hours, days or months later, we come across a snake’s long-shed skin and we know something of the snake, we know that it’s of this approximate girth and that approximate length, but we know very little else. Do we know where the snake is now?”
When I grew up, there was a respect for those who maintained a veil of privacy over their inner-selves — indeed it was viewed as a liberty or right. Of course, that veil also led (and leads) to a tension between with inner- and the outer- self which can lead to bad things.
Eggers’ view is that there is not a constant, platonic inner-self to protect. That, because the self is mutable, nothing is actually lost if it is shared with others. In fact, it is unlikely that that shared self is actually useful to define who one really is.
It is this willingness to share that Eggers describes, this realization that sharing information does not lock in identity, but frees it that forms the basis for how the social web evolves. We post on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Linkedin, blogs, retail sites, etc. Each post is a piece of who we are, but no one can aggregate all the pieces to truly build another version of ourself because we are always just to one side of this aggregation. These strobe light slices of ourselves are, in essence, little fictions which have an identity of their own and which are added to by others through interaction and amplification in the virtual space.
But they are still fictions. Or are they? Certainly compliance officers would disagree. But I would argue that it is the wrong thing to be asking. What is important is that each piece of what we share is a fiction in that it can never contain who we can be. That is the freedom of identity that helps fuel the social web. Thanks, Dave Egger, for showing that to me.