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Response: Transparency and Personal Development in Facebook and Games

In David Kirkpatrick’s The Facebook Effect, Mark Zuckerberg and others insist on the benefits of a more open and transparent society, suggesting that the ideal to strive for is consistency in behavior. Behind these claims is Zuckerberg’s conviction that “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity” (199). By collecting and publically displaying information about an individual which would normally be selectively restricted to particular social contexts, Facebook is intended to paint a comprehensive portrait of the individual, representing his or her “true” self. Facebook is an obsession for many people and a necessity for others, so we’re increasingly pushed towards greater transparency.

Helen Nissenbaum, in Privacy in Context, identifies a potential issue with excess transparency when describing intrinsic losses of freedom, “the result of internal censorship caused by awareness that one’s every action is being noted and recorded” (75). Under constant surveillance, with little or no privacy, we may restrict ourselves to an unnecessary degree, particularly when we aren’t sure who may be watching. This loss of freedom can inhibit personal growth and development by preventing us from leaving our comfort zones. Although privacy settings can control it to a degree (provided you understand and take the time to implement them properly), Facebook’s structure and general purpose enable precisely this type of observation: providing your personal information and uploading photos means putting them in a public space where you don’t necessarily know who can or will access them. As a result, we need to be incredibly careful about what we share – our freedom is diminished.

In video games, players have the opportunity to temporarily adopt a new persona, a new self. Navigating an avatar through the game’s world, interacting with other characters, and working within the set of constraints established by a particular game allow the player to explore this new identity without wholly becoming it – the player both is and is distinct from the character. This immersion and interactivity and the fact that actions taken by the player-character are generally contained within the game provide the player with the privacy to experiment with their identity and sense of self that can’t be found on social networking sites like Facebook. If this intrinsic loss of freedom is hindering our self-expression, the privacy provided by video games may help explain their potential positive impact on psychological development.

Works Cited:

Kirkpatrick, David. The Facebook Effect. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2010. Print.

Nissenbaum, Helen. Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life. Stanford, CA: Stanford Law Books, 2010. Print.

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