Personality Spam

by Mike Shea on 17 March 2007

The internet is a funny place and Web 2.0 is making it even funnier. We're all part of this vast network of constant communication. Most of this communication is machine to machine. Hell, ninety percent of net traffic consists of spam flowing across and getting automatically filtered all so that one poor jackass will click that one link for male enhancement products.

The Web 2.0, in theory, brings about an entirely new network of social interaction. We rate things, we vote for things, we submit things, we comment to one another, we follow topics and subjects around the blogosphere through trackbacks and RSS feeds. We create little islands of self within huge social networking sites like Myspace, Orkut, and now Virb.

How much is too much? How much of my personality can I push out to the net? Why would I care to? Why would anyone else care to read it? Are we so physically and mentally isolated that we desire nothing other than to find those five other people who use Pilot Vanishing Point fountain pens on Moleskine notebooks?

Merlin Mann coins this concept "", the idea that we're all looking for new ways to push every aspect of our being onto every other surfer of the net. We write in blogs, we post pictures to flickr and Picasaweb, we post movies to YouTube, we submit, rate, and comment upon Digg articles. Now we don't just blog, we Tumblog. We don't just Tumblog, we Twitter. We push every little single atomic thought and action onto the web in realtime. It's not enough for me to write about my thoughts on the iPhone, I need to submit the latest link on the iPhone as I read it, I must vote upon it, and I must let everyone know that right now I am "pondering the success and failure of the iPhone." I can't just post my honeymoon photos, I have to post the latest pic from my MacBook's Photo Booth as fast as I can (Using Quicksilver it takes about ten seconds). How much data can I push out to the rest of the world that all basically shows I have nothing to do with my time?

How many of these little islands of self can we create and maintain? Can I keep up my blogger blog, my personal blog, my everquest sites (three of them), my picasaweb photos, my local photos, my twitter account, my Myspace page, my Virb page, and my Tumblog? Can I archive these well enough that they won't get lost the minute I cease to exist? Can I even hope to archive them when the makers of Twitter sell out to Microsoft or Yahoo or Google and decide to start charging me for my spamming of idiom?

It makes the most sense to simply keep up a single weblog. Why confused people? Why spread everything out too far? Tumblr is nice but I can't expect anyone to keep up with two of my blogs - I'm imposing enough on people to read one of mine.

There is another dark cloud looming over this topic as well. How much of our networked personality do we really want to have available? I'm sure it's mostly rampant paranoia, but how much of my behavior can be mapped to my words and actions on the net? What does the four million words of text I have posted across the web say about me? How can it be twisted, manipulated, mapped, remapped, observed, tracked and acted upon? What does my search history say about me? I was happy to hear that Google will be likely wiping out their search history after a certain number of years. What about the rest of the web?

Cory Doctorow mentioned in one of his podcasted university classes that Dejanews reminds us how our past can come back to haunt us. No one expected usenet posts to last very long but suddenly we found entire archives of usenet going back for thirty years available to everyone. That corporate CEO we just met turned out to be the biggest poster to alt.sex.stories.powerrangers. Cory says that images will be next. Soon software will be smart enough to locate all of the pictures of Mike Shea anywhere on the web, what secret images of me will it find? Likely not anything very interesting but you get the idea.

I can only hope I am long gone before my digital self gets rebuilt into some sort of horrifying monster like the Shadow Link at the end of Zelda 2. In the mean time, I will likely dabble into the world of personality spam. I can't say why I am so interested in others knowing what is playing on my iTunes, sitting on my nightstand, scanning across my browser, or lurking in the shadow of my subconsious right now but it's interesting to see where it will lead.

Send comments to mike@mikeshea.net or follow @mshea on Twitter. If you enjoyed this article, please use this link to Amazon.com for your next online purchase.