Monday, September 29, 2008

Japanese Too Shy for Social Networks

There's an interesting article this week on Technology Review, which talks about how shyness is proving an obstacle in Japan to the adaption of western-style social networks:
Shyness in Japan's online social scene challenges international networking sites
The problem, in a nutshell, is that Japanese society values privacy and a certain social reticence, and Japanese web surfers are bringing these qualities online with them. Rather than embracing online communities as a chance to show off in a way that would seem unnatural or even antisocial offline, they are careful not to expose themselves too much online, and generally prefer invite-only communities that allow them to limit contact to people they already know.

This is an excellent example of something I've seen a lot lately: people taking their offline personas with them when they go online. It used to be that online communities were thought of as something akin to a massive costume party: "On the Internet," the comic read, "no one knows that you're a dog." But online interaction is too pervasive these days for this disjunction to endure. In an age when email and instant messaging has almost taken over for the telephone as a preferred form of social interaction (it certainly has for my mother), it now seems perfectly reasonable that you'll be the same person online as you are offline -- and your friends in both spheres will be the same. Online community, in short, is an extension of offline community.

There are exceptions, of course. Online dating sites, for instance, are full of guys pretending to be someone else. But I believe we're in the first stage of Internet routinization, by which online interaction will eventually become so mundane that we'll eventually stop caring about the distinction between online and offline.

On the Internet, in other words, everyone will know you're a dog, because you won't think to hide it from them.