The Network of Identity and The New Interactive Protocol

I've written a few entries here concerning our changing relationship with data and identity as we increasingly engage in these swarming media networks. As our interactions become centered around self- and social-classification we construct inherently multiple, deterritorialized identities. The attention movement, social networking services, and the growing role of RSS feeds in our everyday web experience all consciously contribute to this projected identity. The point of our interactions - of many of our experiences online today - is to classify, is to project these tendrils of identity and develop this vast, interwoven web of data.

Both danah boyd and Scott Karp posted yesterday on the NSA's exploitation of this network of identity (both in response to this article). danah explains this examination of our deterritorialized identities and the nonchalance surrounding our collective reaction as a result of the technology:

"Networked technologies not only make this easier, but they also make the snoop invisible. Problematically, people don't sweat the invasion so much because they can't see it."
Scott, meanwhile, predicts a backlash within social networking media:
"There is a privacy backlash coming that is going to throw cold water on MySpace, Web 2.0, and all the related frothing over anything with the word 'social.'"
While both these writers certainly hold ten times the web-cred I could hope to have, I'm not sure if I'm entirely satisfied with either the technological-nonchalance explaination or the backlash theory. It seems to me that the reason many are not fired up about this and the reason there won't be a backlash is that surveillance has become so integrated into the very basis, the very language of interaction among these media.

Surveillance and social-classification are the mode through which one person engages with another. Log onto MySpace, check your friends' profiles, leave a comment or two, move people around your "Top 8" - this might be a typical session on the site. We will not stop posting personal information as long as these data holds social and interactive value. Surveillance and identity modulation has become the vehicle of these media, and, increasingly, our networked lives. While I in no way condone the actions of the NSA, I am in no way surprised by it. It is not our technologically enabled invisibility at work, but rather our technologically enabled spectacularity. And as long as surveillance and classification is our interactive protocol, we will see no backlash.

[update: just put up an article related to this]


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In my continuing - and increasingly futile - effort to read everything I've marked with "READTHIS" on, the following is my response to a piece written just over two years ago, Data Doubles:Surveillance of Subjects Without Substance by Joshu... [Read More]


You offer a really interesting spin on it, that surveillance is part of social networking. That makes it acceptable and expected, so when NSA or a potential employer finds someone who has published themselves digitally, there's no surprise and no outrage.

I'm not going to condone government snooping either, but I find something missing from reactions like Scott Karp's and danah boyd's, though I think they're both generally insightful.

Thoughtful post, Nathan. I agree with commenter Anne that I generally find Scott Karp's perspective compelling, but I really think he's missing something here, and have posted in response to him on both the "social networking backlash" and the "privacy backlash."


Thanks for your comment. I find myself conflicted when it comes to issues of privacy, surveillance, and attention. I see these phenomena as the natural result (in their social senses) of what we see developing in all this Web 2.0 exuberance. This is how we interact now. Yet when it comes to attention trackers, I feel a little uneasy because of the centralization of our multiple tendrils of identity it implies. When we leave our data traces through web interactions, we leave them in a distributed fashion, with one tendril not necessarily relating to another. I, personally, feel more secure in knowing that these aspects are separate and exist on their own. It seems to me - though maybe I'm misunderstanding their point - that attention trackers would over centralize these identity tendrils, making them essentially more vulnerable for top-down surveillance.

love your blog. this post inspired these collimages of surrender to the network invasion

Thanks very much, I truly appreciate that.

Your work has to be the best response to my writing I've ever received (despite my occasionally poor grammar in this post).

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