1/14/2013

Log on and let them mold you



Two of the most powerfully formative forces for our personalities are our memories and the people with whom we surround ourselves. Until recently, that statement would have simply referred to the stuff in your head and your neighbors. For better or worse, the internet has changed that.

First of all, many of our memories have become externalized. To-Do applications, cloud services and search histories are some of the ways in which we record information so that we don’t have to worry about storing it in our most fallible human minds. Whether you see this as a miracle or tragedy, there is no doubt its all part of our modern world. What you may not have considered are the ways in which this could mold your personality.

“This is where I come from. This is who I am.”
Let’s start with how your search history influences your future searches for information. Google (and other search companies) really want to be able to help you find what you're looking for. To do that, they track you. Got a GMail account? Youtube? Drive? I do. By their own admission, Google scans all of your emails and searches for keywords and trends. They don’t care about your dirty laundry. They want to know what kinds of results to give you. In a way, that's great, since it can help you find what you want more quickly. It’ll bias you though. People who click on left-leaning news links will get more left leaning commentary. Conspiracy theorists will get more fodder for their fantasies. Essentially, when you’re signed in, you allow Google to exaggerate some of your beliefs.

“Truth are us.”
The other issue here is that we are what our tribe tells us to be. There is great documentation that the best way to change public behavior is to convince people that everyone is already doing the thing you want them to do. When you log onto your favorite social network (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Edmodo, etc...) you’ll be submerging yourself into the culture of that network. The trends that you notice there will drive some of your behaviors. Unless you actively oppose a way of thinking or an attitude, it will almost inevitably make its way into your psyche.

So consider staying offline for certain chunks of time, like each weekend. Spend that time reading or chatting with family. The memories you get from those experiences will serve to balance out a lot of what’s going to creep into your mind while logged in.