People now have the freedom to have crosscutting identities in different domains. At church, I’m one thing. At work, I’m something else. I’m something else at home or with my friends. The ability not to have an identity that one carries from sphere to sphere but, rather, to be able to slip in and adopt whatever values and norms are appropriate while retaining one’s identities in other domains? That is what it is to be free.Friedersdorf thinks this is overstated and prefers this formulation:
The ability to slip into a domain and adopt whatever values and norms are appropriate while retaining identities in other domains is something most Americans value, both to live in peace amid difference and for personal reasons.He then tosses off a bunch of stories about people who get in trouble at work for something they said on Facebook or Twitter to a group of acquaintances that does not include anyone they work with, the sort of stories we are all familiar with.
Obviously there are limits to the sort of private life you can maintain on the side; nobody thinks that serial killers have a right to day jobs. But what if you are a serial killer fanboy and maintain a web site full of creepy trivia about serial killers and like to chat with other people about your favorite serial killers? Do you have the right to keep that private? Or do your colleagues and employer have a right to know this about you? Does your employer have a right to fire you for it? What if you post something really offensive and people start demonstrating outside the restaurant where you work and scaring away customers?
What if you're a middle school teacher and your students find out you've written racy fan fiction under a pseudonym? Can you be fired for that?
What if you have controversial political views? I have personally been told by several professors that they could simply never write online about a wide range of topics because their beliefs would get them in big trouble at work. There are things which I would never write about here.
I suppose this is related to the old internet argument about concealing your identity online. On the one hand this frees you to say controversial things, but on the other it enables horrific bullying and other forms of nastiness. Some people still do maintain separate online identities, but the software is getting better and better and tying all your online stuff together. Plus, many people in the tech world do not agree that you have any right to such privacy; Mark Zuckerberg once expressed what looked like real outrage at the thought that people would maintain different Facebook accounts for different interests and different groups of friends.
When Friedersdorf asked his readers to share their experiences in this line he heard from many for whom separating their worlds is vital, for example one who spends a lot of time in forms for victims of abuse he suffered but that his family and friends know nothing about. But he also heard from people who say that we need to shame people who behave badly because we are just way too nasty to each other in general and maybe the threat of a viral video of your worst moment is just what you need to straighten you out.
I'm curious what my readers think, and do.