Besides the obvious commodification of social information, the bigger problem is social information itself.

Coming from a web development background, when I see Facebook, I don't see people: I see rows in a database. I see people being reduced to fields in a form; status updates, Likes, and other such mechanizations of personality, all of them simply a mass of data. The debate 3-5 years ago (and it goes back much further) was about how we (our individual selves) choose to be represented on the internet. This debate was founded on the idea that the self chooses to represent itself when staring at a computer. This was a reasonable assumption back then, when the majority of computer users were adults who had (somewhat) a capacity to distinguish online from offline. And it was largely true; when you logged in to a chatroom, you were vaguely aware that you could create any identity you wanted to. There was a separation.

For several decades psychologists have known that in many ways, we as people do not really consciously choose how we represent ourselves in real life, even though we're made to feel that we choose who we are. We really don't. We're amalgamations of the people around us, our family, our genetics, and how culture affects us. This is all sub/unconscious, very little control is conscious (though it can be made into a more conscious process with meditation/self-understanding). Who we "are" is highly contextual, abstract, and relative. Who we are shifts constantly over time. Conversely, the more you realize and accept this, the more in control you become (though you can never truly be in control).

The internet is the first medium to truly defy this in its most fundamental form, because computerization of the self requires normalization and, therefore, definition. There are no abstract concepts in a database, facebook's rows of information are broken down into data types: integers, strings, text blobs, relational foreign IDs leading to other databases, et cetera. There is no room for the amorphous ideas of friendship: there is only a row which links the unique identifier for me to the unique identifier for you. That is friendship to facebook, and it is becoming friendship for all young people.

Again, the problem here is that social constructs are inherently collective nebulous relatively socially-constructed abstractions with no rigid definitions. Computers cannot accept this. The same way the invention of writing itself turned thought into a form, which could then be analyzed, torn apart, rebuilt, and contextualized further, the social network has turned social interaction into something that can be normalized, data-mined, interpreted (by automation), and aggregated. Social media itself is the destruction of collective social abstractions. When once things were defined by all of us, they are now defined by corporations.

An easy example I've written about before is the very idea of friendship being mechanized and normalized. Of course, to us individually, "friend" still means more and different things than how facebook defines it, (my insistence on its destruction is a bit hyperbolic, but still true,) but the fact that it needed to be normalized and was defined attacks its social significance. By defining it, facebook robbed it of all power in our abstract social-reality by transforming it into something definably real. Before the internet, you could not define your friends. You could have a list, sure, but there were allowable grey areas on what that list meant to me or you because "friend" itself was a purposefully undefined social construct. There was no authority saying it was this or that.

Now, of course, all this is or should be rather irrelevant to an adult, because they understand the difference and the nuance. But this is not apparent to American children, who are now growing up inside the internet. To them, there is no difference. This has a number of severe social and cultural detriments, which might be why a lot of kids are killing themselves based mostly on shit that happens on the internet. (Conversely, the campaign that uses social media to fight against this kind of online bullying is the one that is most explicit in acknowledging that all of the problems associated with "internet seriousness" are ones we collectively create. "It gets better" because we grow up, hopefully.) I know a lot of people who take my status updates more seriously than my speech. Why?

What happens when I write a status update or a tweet? First, we are stripping it, as writing does, of all real-life social context and nuance. It is undeniable (and has been for a long time) that writing something down is distinctly different than saying it, and communication is much more than just words. This is not in debate. For reasonable adults, we can tell the difference and make a reasonable distinction, and may not jump to social conclusions based solely on a status update. (Just as we should not jump to social conclusions based solely on a blog post, though we can get a bit closer thanks to its length.)

But a child, growing up with facebook as a primary means of communication, does not understand this. They grow up reading text as the primary form of social communication. (This has been true not just because of facebook, but of all textually-dominant form of communication, like IMing and texting. Though Facebook represents its epitome.) What's more is that meaning and nuance are only added back into text by means of long-form writing, as in more than the 140 characters allowed on twitter. There are things that can definitely be said concisely within 140 characters, but there is no real substantial discussion to be had because nothing can be sufficiently communicated. (Poetry, of course, defies this, but using that as a defense of twitter would be saying that everybody growing up on facebook/twitter is inherently a poet.)

The youth of today are being normalized like rows in a database. Individuality and personality are being stripped wholesale in favor of uniformity and conformity. Technology is very quickly trying to claim ownership, commodify, and define all terms of abstract social interaction. It started with friendship, it's now moving forward with location-based social situations, and it'll march further into the mosaic of all of our personal trends. Right now trends are one of the easiest things for corporations to follow because they're normalized and recorded in a crowdsourced fashion: we have millions upon millions of users readily giving reviews, rating things, buying things, sharing things, all for free. (And yet access to that database is not free, rather it's sold to marketing agencies.) We are coming soon to the point at which a person's personality itself can be trended: we can track someone's personal development as an individual. Albeit for now, the vast majority of tweeting is done by a minority of twitter users, this trend may change. And I don't know of any numbers around how many people who use facebook versus those who regularly submit content, but I'm sure it's higher than the tweets-per-user ratio. It's already been diagnosed by psychologists that people on facebook are inherently more depressed because they believe everyone else is out having a fantastic time (because that's all facebook shows you in your news feed, because nobody wants to be on facebook saying they're lonely or bored). So there must be enough content being posted by enough people to cause such a shift.

This is all thanks to sharing. This is all thanks to Like-ing. This is all thanks to being able to log in to whatever via Facebook Connect. This is the gradual and systematic technological breakdown of individualism and social uniqueness. The internet is shifting the social, democratic, intellectual, and abstract forms of our society and culture into the realm of the defined, inflexible, totalitarian, and cataloged relational database.

The truth is, everything in our life is socially constructed. The rules we follow, the friends we make, the pressures they create, the expectations, the status updates, the whatever, are all things we simply agree to engage and concern ourselves with. Every day when we wake up we are all willfully signing unspoken social contracts for codes of conduct, behavior, speech, and so forth, and we expect everyone else to abide by them to make our society function smoothly. However, on the internet we're signing actual terms of service and privacy statements every time we use these sites, we have to actually write down the rules of life and privacy in doing so. The breathing room of unwritten social mores is eliminated. For example: "privacy" in real life, specifically in America's justice system, is determined by what is known as "reasonable expectations of privacy", a term that has been around for a hundred years. It, like many laws and social agreements, is purposefully nebulous because it is a collective social construct -- it is one that is allowed to change, reform, be debated, and not be written down. That way it can shift and shape for different situations. The bottom line is, there can be no computer program made to automate the justice system, and for good reason. You'd think there could be no computer program to automate our social system, but that's exactly what we're doing.

We are, with the continued meshing of real and computerized life, destroying the meaning (in that they have no real meaning) of all of such constructs by having to rigidly define them. We are melting away the identity-persona of an entire generation in doing so. I know this because of how many kids take the internet so fucking seriously that they take offense to someone's status update, or they read someone's tweets and fall in love with the person. What's most sad is, five years ago, we'd say that you can't truly love someone based solely on their internet-self, but very soon that internet-self might actually be pretty close to their real self. Internet dating is seemingly more and more promising to more and more young people. By taking the internet so seriously, you are actively modifying what is socially acceptable and understood. More than that, the more people who engage in this, the more totalitarian the internet truly becomes. Those who disregard it are forced to fight against it, because not having a facebook page is a grave social stigma.

Anytime anything in our society is normalized on a massive scale, life gets more boring. I drove across the country and found that McDonalds tastes the same everywhere. Cities kinda look the same wherever you go. (Uniqueness, geographically and culturally, becomes only accessible to those who spend a long time in a certain place. Lurk moar.) How can people not see why art has been stagnant for the past 40 years? The diversity of experience in our lives has been steadily diminishing over that time span; there is little to challenge us and make us strive for more. If the internet conquers our whole lives, where there is no diversity, where everything is systematic and mechanized, then what drones will we become? I have always found it rather amusing that we left the individualistic user-defined-style of MySpace pages for the rigidly-standardized Facebook profile page. We gave up control very explicitly.

In the face of all of this, it would be unsurprising to me if our children's children want nothing to do with technology. Perhaps this is simply the cyclical nature of things. It is unfortunate that the world we leave for them will probably be worse than the world that is currently being left for us now. But perhaps I'm taking the internet too seriously.