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Where’s Your Home On The Internet? Of Refugee Camps and (B)log Cabins
One could argue that a part of humanity is already living parallel or “second” lives online, although these are much more complex than just mere “mirror” images or clones of our everyday existence.
Many people wake up and the first thing they do, even while still in bed, is to sign in to their online life on their mobile phones.
What is happening there that’s so interesting, a bystander might ask?
It’s like the morning newspaper, once the “window to the world”, only now it has become a portal to the Data-World, a universe of information, where humanity ventures while waiting for the bus, eating lunch, before, during and after work.
Travelling Without Moving
We stop to “check in” to places with Foursquare. We stop to make an Instagram photo and upload it. We stop to tweet and like. Stop. Go. Click, touch and type.
Our life has become a habitus interruptus – constantly interspersed with distractions from this “other” world.
But are we just passing through this Disneyland of data like ghosts and restless travellers?
Or do we actually have homes, there?
The easiest way to find out if you have made a home online is to look at what’s the first thing you do when you connect.
Do you go to Facebook? Google Plus? Twitter? The New York Times? Check your Email?
The Real Estate of Social Identity
What has made Facebook so big in particular is the way it buys our identities and sells them back to us as a “free service”.
It wants to know when we’re born, where we live, what we look like.
And no matter how much we feed it, it’ll always want more.
What we get in exchange is officially a clean and satisfying representation of our social life but more often than not it simply turns into a mess of narcissistic reactivity: relationship statuses, photos of drunk people, babies and cats.
But all our “friends” are there, right? It’s our home! Its red notifications are like the life-juice coursing through our veins. Get many and feel alive and wanted. Get none and feel dead and obscure.
Side-note: I’m using Facebook as an example here, but Google+, the Holy Grail that to many shall deliver us from the fangs of the Zuckerberg Blues, is not much different.
These profiles and streams may give you the feeling of home. But the moment their service gets momentarily deactivated or god beware! you lose your profile or account, the insight will come crashing down on you with the weight of a thousand mammoths:
What you called home is nothing but a refugee camp. Sure, it’s free but neither do you have any property rights, nor can you change any of its layout or basic structure. And the moment the camp is looted or officially scrapped, all your stuff goes down with it.
It’s like living within a drawing book that allows you to draw only inside of the lines whereas genuine creativity happens when you go beyond the pre-configured options and actions and do something unexpected and surprising, instead.
There are alternatives, of course – and as much as I painted it black here – if you use these Social Networks in the right way they can become a worthwhile extension of whatever you do. But they shouldn’t be at the center.
Blogs Are The Log Cabins of The Internet
The basic housing unit of the Internet is your own website.
This is why it’s called homepage, duh…
For convenience’s sake, let it be a blog. It makes doing stuff more intuitive than looking at impenetrable blocks of code just because you need to change a comma somewhere.
Also, paying a few dollars for it per month be daunting at first but if you think about it that for the price of less than a coffee you can buy the right to do whatever you want to do, online – consider it!
You could build a business. Write a travel blog. Deal out dubious advice. Rant! Obsess! Let out the inner expert on North Korean collectibles… It doesn’t matter what you do. Your blog is the equivalent of your own private four walls. It’s a bit like Vegas. What you do there, stays there. And once in a while the masses will make pilgrimages to your blog to feast their hungry eyes on items that went from viral to epidemic!
As in the real world, with rights come responsibility. And with infinite freedom comes infinite responsibility.
But that’s another question.
If you spend a lot of time on the Internet and don’t yet have your own blog, do it now. That means: Your own domain. Crafted and filled with content by yourself. No cheapskates cop-out! Paying for something can also help to make a commitment.
Duplicating photos on Tumblr, doing personality quizzes on Facebook and talking about your cat on Twitter is all great, but if you don’t do yourself the favor and start to build your own home, no one will do it for you.