01 April 2011

Social Media - How suggestions kill our identity

"Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself."
Brian Solis

Social Media platforms, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, are already fully integrated parts of our daily lives. They provide us with information, current statutes of our friends and content we were most likely never really aware of before. All of them add so much value to our lives, make things easier for us to discover and connect the most important people and interest we have with each other. And to make things even better, all of these services are completely free. Or are they?

The Cost of Free
With the services we use, we tend to not consciously think how the corporations make their money. We see an advertisement or two and see how it somewhat connects with the interests we have. By participating in social media, we give out our details to the companies and they use it for their marketing operations. Our data is their money, the product they sell is us.

While companies promise us strict privacy rights of the content we share, they use our information to develop extremely targeted advertisements. Personally myself, I am surprised how accurate the advertising on Facebook is for my profile. Quite scary, but we can trust these corporations with our data not to be exposed to the public. The problem of the cost of free is not necessarily that companies own our content and may or may not do whatever they want with it. The problem is with user profiling and suggesting of content.

The Problem of Suggestions
In the old days when we discovered something like old rock music from the 60s or a movie we have never heard of before, we discovered these things by doing our own research or got suggestions from our friends. Each discovery we made was connected to a story and developed us as a person. We started to create ourselves over time by finding things we find interesting.

In the social media world of 'free', we are being suggested with products, services and content. All these suggestions are based on keywords we post, chat conversations with our friends, and content we already consumed before. While this may seem harmless at first, it essentially destroys our identity. As human beings, we are all individual with different interests and desires. By finding content on our own, we create the person we are today by ourselves. Online suggestions however, compare your interests with the interests of people with smilier interests, combined with the data they collect within our social media profiles. By doing so, suggestions put us into little 'identity boxes', constantly bombarding us with content they think is relevant for us.

Suggestions need to be consumed with extra care. If we entirely base our interest on suggestions, we will develop ourselves to people with identical interests and loose a significant amount of personal identity. While we may realize this now, we need to be more aware of the younger generations, who already use the Internet from a very early age on and are not too much aware of consumer profiling. These generations may fall into the problem of being put into these 'identity boxes' and develop themselves to identical human beings with too many similar interests.

The video below is a BBC's trailer for their highly interesting documentary series of 'The Virtual Revolution', discussing the digital age from very different perspectives.

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