2011-07-08

The Inevitable Facebook-ization of Google+

Why is Google+ destined to become Facebook?

I am not pessimistic about many things in life, but if there is one human propensity I can count on, it's human beings' desire to ruin every social blank slate with all the same crap that lead us to our fresh start in the first place. I've seen this so many times, I have learned to bank on it.

The first time I remember noticing it was in the eighth grade, when I started my second year of junior high school in a brand new school. This new school consisted of students who were formally attending one of three or four other schools. So when we all got thrown into a brand new school with no existing social structure, what we witnessed was nothing short of amazing. Nerds friends with jocks, beautiful people laughing with ugly folks, all-encompassing open-mindedness. When you break down the walls, people suddenly become good, friendly, and open-hearted. Fancy that.

I don't have to tell you that by the beginning of my ninth grade year, that phenomenon was over. Once the social structure constructs itself, the good feelings that lead to its construction disappear, and people go back to excluding each other judging each other, hating each other. It's kind of depressing.

I'm also old enough to have noticed this phenomenon occur on the internet. When I was a kid, and the internet was first getting started, you could wander into a chat room and meet all kinds of interesting people. It was really cool. Those were carefree days. Anyone could say anything; sometimes others would laugh, sometimes others would argue, but it always had a certain spirit of open-heartedness about it. It was that spirit that brought more and more people to the internet. In the 90s, there was a general feeling about the internet (among young people, anyway) that it was "a place to go where you could be yourself." Remember The Matrix? Sure, it's anachronistic by today's standards, but that movie was huge because it captured this feeling perfectly.

And yet, after about ten years of development, the internet became... pretty much like the rest of life. People started becoming guarded and stand-offish, protecting their words and their privacy. So we had to start over again with a new community without walls or social structure: MySpace. MySpace died before it ever became the corporate advertising machine that we know today. It died because our walls came up. A few spooky episodes of Jenny Jones was enough to ruin it completely.

So then there was Facebook, and we started all over again. This time, it seemed right. People were doing what they do best: posting silly pictures of themselves, putting up funny anecdotal status updates, and generally being the kooky species that we are. Then what happened? We had to put everyone on "limited profile" and make our profile pages into business resumes.

Don't get me wrong -- I get it. I understand why this happens, and that there are a million good reasons for this. Indeed, I'm not really lamenting the fact that people guard themselves more closely in a wider circle of people than they do among close friends or total strangers.

The problem is that we seem to want to break down the walls between us, and yet we keep putting them back up again. Frankly, I think fear is driving this. We're afraid to be who we are, so we try to be who we think people want us to be. None of us are comfortable enough in our own skin to say, "Look, this is who I am. If you don't like the fact that I have a tattoo of a gibbons ape on my buttocks and hang out at whiskey bars on Saturdays, too bad!"

But that's exactly what we need to start doing. We need to grow more comfortable with ourselves. In doing so, we become far more accepting of other people, and we learn, grow, and maintain a genuinely positive community, whatever it looks like.

Why do we insist on turning everything into junior high school?