—Jaron Lanier, in the afterward to the paperback edition of You Are Not a Gadget
I finished this book yesterday and got a lot out of it. This passage in the afterward really struck me. In part because it is foreign to my experience. My early life and a large chunk of my adulthood are completely undocumented online, so Facebook, though I don’t think about it or use it much, seems pretty innocuous. But the thought of having a “cartoon version” of myself up there in perpetuity is something I can easily imagine causing a lot anxiety. It’s something I’ve heard about from people younger than me, though never articulated quite this clearly.
Facebook’s assault on privacy and anonymous comments on blogs are both examples of antihuman software design, even though they might seem like opposites.
Enforcing radical anti-anonymity puts people in a similar position as radical anonymity. In each case, people are no longer able to define themselves. The digital system sets the rules and boundaries, instead of each person.
How does Facebook fight personhood? Consider: would we have had a Mark Twain or a Bob Dylan if the Facebook doppelgängers of Samuel Clemens and Robert Zimmerman dogged them at every step? Strategic forgetting is part of personhood, and it is threatened. To be a person you have to find a sweet spot in which you both invent yourself and are real.
There seems to be a Facebook generational divide that is at odds with the cliche. People old enough to have a life—jobs or kids, for instance—use Facebook to connect to their own pasts, and generally have good experiences. It’s the youngest ones who more often find themselves trapped or challenged by cartoon versions of themselves on Facebook.
In particular, a “post-Facebook” generation has begun to appear since the first edition of this book. For these young people, Facebook is not something that supposedly differentiates them from older generations but is instead an inherited burden. They are comfortable criticizing the service, and it will be their fate to wrestle with it.