Actions Speak Louder Than Words.

The other day I was reminded of a quote I love by the prolific science fiction Robert Heinlein. It goes like this:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

I’m not sure when he said it, or where, but I just really like the Thoreau-esque notion of self-sufficiency. And the end, where instead of acknowledging that some people will become multi-disciplinarians and others specialists, he derides specialization as being for insects. None of this “free to be you and me” shiny, happy bullshit. Either you are with him, or you are an insect (or maybe you are neither, some unskilled idiot). I like that.

[writers note: I believe I can do 10 of those things listed above.]

In fact, I liked it so much that I decided that I should post that quote to my Facebook profile – not post it on my wall, so it shows up in people’s newsfeeds, but on my actual profile. So that when someone is looking at me (or rather, Facebook‘s page about me) they can see this quote and say something like “Wow, Ezra is no insect,” or something along those lines.

So I went to Facebook. I clicked on my profile. I clicked on “about” (which took me a minute to find, buried under some other links and a profile pic). Then I scrolled down to “About You” and clicked “edit.”

And that’s when it hit me.

Facebook buried this part of the experience. This used to be ALL that Facebook (and social media) was. Before the Timeline, before newsfeed, before Twitter, before open APIs inserted into every app and action, before beacon, in what I am now calling “Social Media 1.0″ your profile was king. Social Media 1.0 was like online dating. It was an idealistic, curated, manicured picture of who you wanted the world to see you as. The only pictures of you were the ones you posted. You wrote what movies you liked, what shows you watched, what music you listened to. And that was it. People had to take your word for it. It was the best you that you could come up with. Perfectly polished and ready to go out into the social media world.

But that’s all changed now. Now, the parts of your profile that you actually enter in are buried deep behind links, timelines, photo mosaics, things you’ve liked, lists of articles you’ve actually read, shows & movies you’ve actually watched, music you are actually listening to, places you have actually been.

Your actions have surpassed your words. You are no longer who you say you are, you are what you do. As in the real world. There’s no more hiding behind the ideal you. Or at least, it becomes much more difficult.

In theory, this is supposed to make us all more honest. It’s at the center of a great debate about whether anonymity is good for the web. I don’t see the above the board web, the public web, the web we use every day, sites like the NY Times, Wikipedia, YouTube etc allowing anonymity for that much longer. In my opinion, be it ever so humble, I think that eventually Facebook will become THE web passport that gets you into every property. Want to read the NY Times? Just log in with your Facebook profile (allowing NYT to know a lot about you and thus target ads at you correctly) and read all you want. Want to edit that page about Nyan Cat on Wikipedia? Sure thing. Facebook login please. It’s a lot harder to get into a flame war when you know you have 5 mutual friends and like all the same movies.

Anonymity will be reserved for the underground Internet. Accessed securely with browsers like Tor and hosting sites like The Silk Road and probably Reddit and 4Chan. No one will know who you are, no one will be trying to market anything to you. And for some people, that might just be where things really get “real.”

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About Ezra Englebardt
Account planner, digital nerd, marketing guru, tweeter, occasional blogger, cyclist, snowboarder, mountain biker, social media junkie and avid reader. CU-Boulder and Boston College alum. Frequent guest speaker in Boston-area universities.

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