For centuries, we human beings are used to having separate worlds in our lives. Our parents, our friends, our managers, our peers, our teachers, our children – the list goes on. We often maintain different personalities with the different worlds and rarely are we comfortable with details about who we are in one world leaking into one of the other worlds. As a diehard Seinfeld fan, this brings to mind George’s fear of colliding of worlds (Independent George, Relationship George) as Jerry happily hooks up Elaine and Susan!
When I read articles such as the NYTimes one on “They Loved Your G.P.A. Then They Saw Your Tweets“, I always come away with mixed feelings about what role the social networking landscape should play on one’s life – in this case, education, perhaps something else in another case. This is certainly not the first article written about the reality of colliding worlds and it won’t be the last. As we become more trackable via sensors, the problem of collisions is going to be huge. As a society, are we really prepared for it?
Before we answer that question, let’s recall the role that man’s inventions have played on evolving our societal norms over the years. From the evolution of commerce to banking to recent techniques of sending money via email, one of communication from pigeon carriers to snail mail to all kinds of electronic modes available now, etc., our society has evolved and adapted to inventions (technological and other) that have woven into people’s lives as an integral part.
Along the same lines, there is a massive force on social behavior at the moment, brought upon by all the myriad of information that is available about us online. I wrote on Quora about the different ways in which one can lose privacy today – for all those reasons and more, evidence of our behavior is smeared in bits of information all over the place. It is futile to fight it or try to revert or delete it all. And yet, I believe this is the among the most difficult changes inflicted on society by human inventions.
Despite all the changes that have come about, the notion of a relationship role is one that has undergone little to no change from times immemorial. And I mean relationship in the broadest of senses – what a student is to a teacher, what a child is to a parent, what friends are to each other, etc. And despite the huge changes that have happened in the ways we communicate, how we handle these different personas have more or less remained the same.
And today, this is all in jeopardy. Not only that, but it is rapidly changing – before we are ready for it. Previously, to impress a potential employer, we could put our best foot forward and know that that is going to be what counts for the most part. The equivalent of information leaks in that world would have been things like knowing a common intersection of people from one of your different worlds that may divulge undesirable information about you. This was not a common occurrence in the big scheme of things.
Today, it is a reality everywhere. There is no place to hide. And this makes all the difference. Unfortunately, just as in any other case, technology will end up influencing human social behavior more so than accepted societal norms defining the future of technology in this space. We have to be more cognizant about this in our actions. Be it an educational institution that figures out just how much your tweets count towards your admissions or a student that figures out how to develop a social profile that augments their admissions – we will eventually reach equilibrium. Until then, it’s a rocky road ahead and we have to ride along!