Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Age of Early Self-Conception

I recently came across a fascinating blog post written by a young fellow named Ben Casnocha. If you don’t know who he is, take a few minutes to check out his blog. He’s the author of a book, My Start-Up Life: What a (Very) Young CEO Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley about starting an e-government software company at the ripe old age of 14. He also gives speeches across the country and around the world, so we’ve got some common ground as well. In addition to the book, he also has a column in The Silicon Valley Business Journal and his aforementioned blog, which is written primarily about “entrepreneurship, books, current affairs and intellectual life.”

In the post that caught my eye, Ben puts forward something he calls “The Age of Early Self-Conception.” It’s his name for something that could also be called “The Facebook Effect,” and asks the question – how is social networking affecting the way we see ourselves?

It’s an interesting question. I’ve talked a lot here about the Participation Economy and the interconnectedness of the world, and I think that Ben’s looking at those themes from a totally out-of-the-ordinary perspective. Yes, we are all actively participating in the digital world (the majority of us anyway). Now that we’ve said that, what does it mean for the kids who are growing up in that world?
Imagine the tens of millions of 15 year-olds who go to set up their profile and see a big white text box that says "Bio." As the cursor blinks, they ask themselves, "What is my biography? What are my interests? What are my religious views? What is my relationship status? Am I sexually interested in men or women?"
Actively defining yourself isn’t something many of us were asked to do before social networks came around. Sure, most people participate in a Federal census, but they don’t ask for much information in those. Giving people of all ages (yes, even grown-ups are on Facebook these days) the chance to publish a definitive biography, even if it’s a one-paragraph version, would be an interesting experiment on it’s own. But seeing how it affects Gen Y’s view of themselves in the long-term is where things will get really interesting.