Sunday, August 17, 2008

The other Devin Venable

The Internet is a lot like your brain in that it remembers a great deal of your past. That goofy question you asked another developer back in 1998 via a mailing list---a copy is still floating around on the net. Or what about that videographer friend who asks for your help on a project? Do you really want the world to see you through the prism of a music video on youtube? How about the online petition you signed when you were all worked up over a political issue?

Unlike your brain's recollection of that great moment twenty years ago, degraded and made fuzzy over time, the internet can quote your words verbatim. Like your brain, some memories will be lost---or buried so deep that they will never resurface.

The Internet is different in that it may have false memories about you. As a brain, it has more in common with the Star Trek Borg than one belonging to a human. This is the collective memory of millions. Fortunately, millions are not interested in you personally---unless you are Paris Hilton. But what about those who do write about you? And if something is attributed to you, is it the right you?

For the first several years on the Internet, I was the only Devin Venable around---as far as I could tell. Just as I had convinced myself that my name was one of a kind, a high school kid popped up, posting things that were sensible for a kid his age.

I'm sure as he posted that the last thing on his mind was keeping up my professional image on the net.

If your name is John Smith or David Lee, you don't have to worry about this. You are granted a certain anonymity because so many share your...John Doe.

So this other Devin is still around. He is in his twenties now. How do I know this? Because he talks about himself on sites like bebo and Facebook. I know a lot about him. I know that he likes to wear New Era baseball hats, listen to rap music, and---not that I wanted to know---that he wears boxers instead of briefs.

Then again, I really don't know him at all. I can't even be sure that he is one other person. I don't know anything other than the public details that he (or they or someone) is projecting on the net. Will he/she/it/they be pleased with the picture they have painted of Devin Venable in ten years?

This gets me to thinking about metadata. Devin Venable is a very distinctive attribute (or tag). But it's not a particularly useful attribute for grouping. Here are some seemingly common attributes of the members of this group (based upon what I know of the Devins on the Internet): [human, male, American, white]. This isn't very specific and, as the name Devin is sometimes given to females, non-whites, and non-Americans, the only truley unique attribute is that we're all human.

Name your cat Devin Venable and that goes out the window as well.