Like it or not, we exist in a world of geometric forms, universal in their mathematical proof. Social circles, spheres of influence, the hard-edged square of Knowing Too Much, and loops of self-defeating information. Life has continually been defined in these terms, and the internet slowly creeps unto each. That which is defined mathematically is inherently perfect, for it is an unreal abstract. When brought to reality -- that is, to introduce the human element -- is to destroy such purity. The art of maintaining human involvement is to mitigate that impurity to manageable levels, lest our social systems collapse. Sociology and psychology are the abstract studies of such: the few in many, the one in few, the subjects being a kind of abstract geometric system of self. I am not saying that you are a square and I am a triangle, I am saying that we are complex systems, that one day may be plotted out mathematically with probabilities and their justification-proofs. I am entirely interested in our increasing faith in such forms. (And it is a faith.)
You have two basic kinds of social circles: entirely public or intimately secret. Inside a computer network, these are simple binary opposites, expressed in terms of "secure" and "insecure", "private" and "public", etc. In life, these definitions are fuzzy, but nonetheless logical results of a social lexicon: "friends", "drinking buddies", "acquaintances", "coworkers" (three out of four are default Google+ circles: problem officer?) Family, friends, and all that nonsense; how you define such persons is an individual's own abstraction, however misunderstood, neverknown, and noncompliant with others it ends up being. You cannot yet translate the everchanging nature of a social circle onto the codified latent image of Internet. Regardless, general principals can be applied to both systems of human interaction, for they are merely human.
Everything attempting to be in between the poles of "public" and "private" is inherently toxic, both to itself and to its environment. Knowledge, that which many social circles and loops protects, is that which ultimately destroys them. A familiar theme among common-sense technology consultants to multibillion-dollar corporations wishing to enter the new Social Internet is that you can either be "all in, or not in". When Sony or the GOP gets a Twitter account, anyone can say whatever they want to them. This is hardly news, and it is hardly relevant. The Republican party, for example, has within it a very high-profile and delicate social circle. When we read Sarah Palin's emails, you are witnessing a small breach into that information loop. The importance of this is not in its unravelling, but in its mere discovery. A loop is only as good as its secrecy. Anything else is destructive.
This is on a large, public, rather celebrity scale, however. This is why Barack Obama's BlackBerry had to be secured with encryption that probably bests many NATO secrets. In today's world, the leaking of his contact list is more volatile than the releasing of his email messages. Any information regarding who belongs to Obama's true "social circles" is the beginning of the end. Messages, when leaked, can be telling, as we've seen with WikiLeaks. However, they do not destroy the social circle that created or allowed them. The world is held in check, economically and politically, by those "in the loop". However, Obama's contact list is probably less valuable than Brad Pitt's, as we have somewhat learned.
The most toxic event that can happen to any loop is the acknowledgement of its existence. The toxicity of this event can be devastating in its application, depending entirely on the scope of its context. (Albeit the toxicity of such loops may be purposeful with a basic understanding of social disobedience and the sacrifices therein.) Nothing generates rumors more than the discovery that rumors exist. A sphere of influence reverberates such telling arrogance into spite and malcontent. On large scales, this means news organizations and tabloids, bribes and whatnot, but on the small scale it means feelings and friendships. The art of the bluff is to destroy an opponent before they can realize whether they are destroyed or not. The backlash against a bluff is realized in obvious forms using game theory, but when applied to sociality, its ramifications are far more damning. Theorists lead back to only one possible way to use such bluffs (in this case, the acknowledgement of a loop) in a beneficial way: with complex probabilities, situations, and contexts. Unfortunately most humans are incapable of being so precise... especially young people. The probability of doing nothing more than making a lot of people upset is extremely high.
To bring this forward more: we currently live in the narrowing of our electronic sociality, and it is now being further codified using these theories of geometry and games applied to our sociality. Facebook and MySpace broadcasted all events to all audiences, or in a more limited-but-not-social fashion. LinkedIn employed the method of "network", "extended network", and "public" through its idea of connections (the numbered tiering of social spheres). Google+ is the first to implement "circles" as core functionality. This is both liberating and deceitful. Liberating in that you can now "securely" dictate the channels of your own communication (to thus share things with your close friends that you would not want your family to see). Deceitful because you can hide things from others in more convoluted, precise fashions and no one would know, but if they did, it might damage the fabric of actual social influence. Thanks to this, Plus gets boring, as everyone hides within their circles without anyone knowing. This plainly adds another level of individual apprehension to the social network. To alleviate this, Plus has controls for how things are "reshared", but this only proves my point: we must consciously and actively relegate the finer points of our egos, our friendships, and our sociality.
We do this in "real life" all the time. We do it constantly, it's a basic trope of humanity. We tell one person one thing that we do not wish another person to know, frequently about that third party. There are conditions to our friendship and the exchange of information, whether we know about them (and further, about ourselves) or not. The greatest secret to keep is not the secret itself, but the knowledge that there is a secret to be kept. This is where the line between politics and sociality defines itself: the power-struggle of information as it disseminates through a social ecosystem. Whether this information is that time you got drunk and peed on your dog or whether there's going to be a planned protest in London later today, the same rules apply. The last thing a group of true activists should wish to do is inadvertently reveal their intentions and even their existence before they take action. Likewise, the last thing a clique of girls should want to do is reveal their scheming to a boy they like.
That is an overview of the macro-level. There now exists a kind of social economy, one never before so rigidly defined as what we have been accomplishing over the last ten years. The realm of social capital has long been the province of artists, musicians, actors, or otherwise those whose "job" it is to motivate themselves and others through social means rather than purely political or financial ones. The experimental filmmaker does not depend upon the good will of a commercial film distribution company, but on the friendships they've made with other filmmakers and exhibitors. The art house is a social ecosystem rather than a financial one. There are, of course, minglings of both worlds necessary for survival, (the art house needs to get money from somewhere to stay open,) but for the sake of argument my position stands regardless. On the micro-level this is frequently a small circle of like-minded people, typically confined to a small geographic area. Cities have served as hyperstimulants to such systems of social capital. However, small rural communities have always been capable of the same methodologies of social exchange (if you know the bartender at the only bar in town, they'll probably keep a tab open for you, if they don't already know better).
It is curious how the two worlds (rural vs urban) hold this value of social capital in such contention, when they are so very alike in basic premise. Politicians often say they want to bring back the "small town feel" to America at large: conservatives frequently rally against the "big city liberals". Likewise, the emotionally honest contend against the viscerally restrictive, when both are alike in dignity. The modern diatribes of introvert versus extrovert are similarly flawed in that they are too highly reductive of a complex system to be taken seriously. (And perhaps that is this whole argument in a piece.) Nevertheless, these are the conflicts we are abridging and annotating and gradually refactoring with our digital personas.
Online, our social capital is represented almost wholly in the positive, with "Like" and +1 buttons. Why are our social systems enforcing positivity and passivity? This is not how the world works, and thus our digital systems of social science are fundamentally flawed, not only in their reductiveness but in their approach. I will be explicit: I am not saying we need a -1 button, quite the contrary. We need no buttons. This is the Disease that faces us intellectually and, eventually, emotionally. As younger generations take their social circles more and more seriously, the reliance on them and potential distortions within them increase. Using the previous example: imagine if you could see your friends' circles in Plus and find your place within them. We have, for the first time, the potentiality for it to be databased somewhere that one person is someone I only consider a boring acquaintance, while another I may secretly hold as a potentially dear friend. They may hold me in high regard. I question what this means to us, if it should merit anything more than an "okay" and a sigh. To many now approaching youth, it would be more than a small event to know their place in their friends' social circles. I mean, to kids, this internet shit is kinda serious.
I say this now because in other contexts this flawed approach (the codifying of groups of people) has colored many of our previous mistakes as a society. In real life, we have had rather disruptive "social loops" that were cemented in laws and norms, such as ones based entirely on gender, or race, or ethnicity, or anything. Liberal democracy dictated these to be wrong, and toxic to our society and culture, as they obviously are. If we are not allowed to discriminate in any fashion, why are we allowed to discriminate online? It is as likely that a person could make a "dudes only" circle in Google+ as they could make a "white people" circle or a "cool kids" circle. Are they equally socially disruptive, if they were to be revealed? I hesitate to make such generalizations and comparisons, but I find it necessary to bring forth questions to an uncomfortable extreme. In the most optimistic sense, we can reform this position, and remove the possibility of people making groups based on race, but can we say the same about gender? Or about social popularity?
A loop comprised solely of males in any kind of discriminatory fashion has been deemed by our society to be unjust and discriminatory. However, a social circle comprised of women is not. Are the sins of male exclusionism to be repeated? The male loop has existed for thousands of years and it has been so ubiquitous in our social evolution that it is likewise fundamentally difficult to extinguish. Feminism in all its waves has gone back-and-forth on the subject of gender exclusionism, from reducing it to misogyny to embracing it as community-building when adapted for women to use. However, any such approach is destructive; feminism could never fight fire with fire and achieve any measure of real success. I subject it to the same analysis as most other sociopolitical issues: the arguments of liberalism versus conservativism. The freedom to do what you want versus the enforcement of equality. The question has always been: do we allow men the freedom to create their own groups, or do we protect the equality of the women who may be discriminated by it? Regardless, to approach it in this matter is treating the symptom rather than eradicating the root problem. The obvious Disease is the need for or expression of discrimination in the first place. Gender equality can never truly be reached until this issue is broken. Likewise, the true liberation of our social circles can never be achieved until our need to have them is broken. Why do we need to rigidly organize our friends into circles, when our collective cultural emotional maturity is at perhaps all-time lows?
(As an aside, the whole polarization of liberalism versus conservatism is a flawed system. Our founding fathers never intended for them to be opposing forces, but rather opposite sides of a balanced equation. In our American founding documents, it is enumerated that we each have the equal right of freedom, which is as a phrase itself a balance of Enlightenment-era liberal and conservative ideals. I have the same equal right to my freedom that you have for your freedom: this is the way of things in our more perfect union. It is only the contemporary ideas of neoliberalism and neoconservatism that their positions become absolute and rigidly opposed, just as our 21st century ideas of sociality and interaction now become absolute and rigidly defined.)
On the micro-level of our social circles, where motivation matters more than blame, facts don't matter as much as interpretation. The liberation of ourselves from the codifying notion of digital sociality is one of two paths: inherently public or intimately secret. Unfortunately, as humans we are highly adept at misunderstanding each other, and the removal of physical layers to our social interactions only increases the likelihood of our self-destruction. With computers, we live in an all-or-nothing game. There is no fuzzy logic to the systems we are building to further structure our lives. Going the "secret" route is an easy one, and it's one most people often take. Hide your tweets and your posts and whatnot, so that you totally control who can see them. As I have said, however, this is still socially dangerous. The integrity of your privacy hinges least on the system itself, and almost entirely on the people you have allowed in your social sphere. If you left your Facebook account logged in somewhere, the most someone could do is post as you, and maybe view your private messages, but it wasn't really too socially damning because most everything was socially available. As I've said about Google Plus, however, the system itself could tell much more to the prying eyes of an impostor, depending on how deeply you codify yourself onto that system. If you build it, they will come; and many are ready to map their lives onto such systems. We seem to have nothing better to do.
The public route is a much more encouraging one, however it has two of its own seemingly opposing sides. One of populist emotional honesty, in which we expose our hearts not as depressed youth, nor self-beguiled sages, not even as "kindred spirits", but as informed social citizens. I call this a democratization of sociality, for that is the only revolutionary response to what has been called into form by our currently totalitarian, corporate-controlled digital social lives. This is the uncensored loop, the private-made-public, the personal-in-toto, with all its unabashed egoism and vulnerability. It requires a high degree of social consciousness and intellectual abstraction-of-self, a kind of emotional maturity that won't be found in our youth anytime soon, which would afford instances of open criticism and potential ridicule. More than this, however, it requires an audience to understand as much, which will propagate a social economy to support it. In real life, we call this social circle your "close friends". Can this be extended indefinitely into infinity? We may have to find out soon.
The other public route, which is somewhat already happening, is one of social disobedience. This is a rather forced attrition for many, and it does not forgive the sins of our digital demons, but rather embraces them with an almost religious understanding. (And, as I said, it is a faith.) Disobedience of social systems in the sincere interest of destroying the digital self; totally divorcing the facilitation of social life from its possible mechanizations. This kind of disassociation comes rather naturally to those of us who were born into a world without such systems. It requires the knowledge of self as system and the profession of grafting the self onto social systems. We grew up in a world that stated, plainly, no one knows I am a dog. This was the dream that was Internet, a burgeoning anonymous society without race or religion, now proudly bloodied, hilariously commodified, rope-fastened upon the hull of the HMS Google. We are now allowing ourselves to be objectified through systemic social reductionism; so, in turn, we can choose to disobediently objectify ourselves, and willingly sacrifice what humanity others may attach to that objectification.
We continue to pay for these sins with social capital, which is worth more to them than money. We can choose not to use them, or we can choose to subvert them, or we can choose to carry on as we have. I'm not sure what side I fall on yet, but my feelings are hurt anyway, by entities that do not even truly exist. At the end of such discussions, I often wonder, do then my feelings truly exist? Are they but ghosts in a machine? Are they being exploited by a mechanized deity, one of human-made origin? In what path does our salvation lie, if it is rested upon a cauldron of unholy loves.