The other night, a budding lawyer lamented that she needed to watch what she put on her MySpace page because future employers might see it. A few months ago, Sue Thomas told me she was sometimes taken aback by what people would type into Twitter - entries that could damage their reputation.
I've heard this a lot: there is a fear of transparency.
Historically, communication technologies (books, radio, television) have broken down barriers. Usually these were cultural barriers. Helping people of different groups interact, become more tolerant, and calm society.
But there are little truths about ourselves that may be damaging, may seem irrelevant that social media seems to rapidly be bringing to the forefront and dispelling as either damaging or irrelevant.
Let's take the Rupert Holmes Paradox as a case in point.
The Rupert Holmes Paradox goes something like this:
Two people meet and fall in love. They get married. Over time, they start to take each other for granted, fall into specific patterns of relating, and grow bored with each other. They have institutionalized their communication patterns which has, in effect, put the spark out.
Unbeknownst to either, these two people (this is a pre-Internet story) then start checking out the personal ads sections of the local paper. They don't know what they need, but they need more. Neither are really happy about it, but they need vital communication aren't getting in their marriage.
So one takes out an ad. He gets a great response. In the ad, he talks about all these great romantic notions. His respondent shares and amplifies those notions. She's so much more interesting than his wife, and she's only been in text!
And when they meet at the pub, husband and wife are face to face. They were both more interesting and relevant than they thought.
So the Rupert Holmes Paradox is: if you use one means of communicating with someone all the time, you end up not communicating at all.
Imagine if the husband and wife were on Facebook.
Rupert Holmes threw a Pina Colada at you!
Liza Holmes left a message on your wall:
I never knew you liked Pina Coladas! What do you think of walks in the rain?
This is true for many things. People have often tended to partition their lives. Their work persona, their home persona, their "not-in-front-of-the-kids" persona, their church persona.
Transparency through social media is wearing these boundaries away. Is that good or bad? No. It's both or neither. It's merely an outgrowth of this new communications technology.
In a very real way, social media and social networking are breaking down not external barriers for communication - but internal ones. And that's rather exciting to watch.