Have digital breadcrumbs changed your perspective on friends?

Gingerbread house
Photo owned by gemsling (cc)

There’s a lot being said about identity on the web today, mostly by treasure-hunters intent on striking identity protection gold. But don’t you find that identity on the web nowadays is little more than loosely-connected breadcrumbs? Each place where we store something about ourselves is a breadcrumb. We upload our photos to Flickr, administrate our Facebook profiles and publish oddbits on our Tumblogs. All breadcrumbs. Each outlet exposes us to a subtly-different audience. Almost like we’re tilting our heads a certain way so that people who consume that content know a particular aspect of our personality. Each outlet presents an opportunity to learn about a person, but are also a warren of trust relationships.

Personal breadcrumbs are avatars by another name. Artifacts of branding that we’d like to leave after us when we leave. Things we want to be remembered for. So, when you’re the editor for your personal sales story, how close are you being to the truth? Are those non-fat, pretend breadcrumbs? How trustworthy are you being?

Forgetting the eternal paranoia pill of placing your personal data live on the web, and putting the shoe on the other foot, how does reading breadcrumbed snippets of your friends’ lives change the way you view them? It’s as relevant for those you know and interact with in real life, as well as those with whom you find yourself communicating with online. Have you changed the way you judge people after following their digital breadcrumbs?

Join the Conversation


  1. Good point. I think seeing the friends I’ve made start up blogging has helped deepen my understanding of their passions and talents, but I don’t think what they upload to bebo or Facebook or Flickr has changed my perspective on them.

    In fact, for me it’s the other way around – seeing all the digital breadcrumbs of people and then actually meeting them is always interesting because they are never the people you imagine they’ll be after reading them. And that’s probably a good thing too πŸ™‚

  2. Although I should say, reverting back to one of your earlier posts about Facebook applications and the like, that every time now friends invite me to be zombie bitten or join a group to save red plastic buckets from the evils of green ones, a little part of me thinks “Loser!”… But I’m odd like that πŸ˜‰

  3. Everyone hides 90% of themselves whether you know them online or offline. It’s interesting to catch mini-bites of their inner-personality, but that’s all it is. You’ll never truly know anyone, so the breadcrumbs are generally pretty irrelevant.

    As long as you generally like your friends (again online or offline) then it shouldn’t matter if you find out they are lying about their political viewpoints, or if they have a shady past. We always try to put forward our best sides and hide the parts we don’t like. No one is perfect and we all lie. A good friend will understand this and accept us for who we portray, rather than some perception they have gathered through picking up breadcrumbs.

    Then again, I always look for the best in people and like most people I meet. It takes a lot for me to dislike someone. It happens, but not often.

  4. @Darragh Surely deepening your understanding changes your perspective? This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just interesting to see how consuming chains of disconnected presences influences perception.

  5. @Darren I’m not naΓ―ve to believe exposuring of all of one’s quirks online. Sometimes our friends can surprise in good ways, too. Breadcrumbs are not necessarily bad, rather sometimes, if truthful, they can open our eyes to people and let us see them in a new light.

  6. Alexia, I suppose it does, but like Darren above I generally try to like everyone, so the breadcrumbs offer what Darren calls the mini-bites. New topics of conversation, new ways of doing things, new learnings or things to share but it wouldn’t influence my thoughts/reactions to the person away from the computer too much.

    I find the internet can be a great mask to hide behind. As the New Yorker pointed out, on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.

    What about yourself? Would you change your view on someone, and your personal relationship with them based on something they published online, especially if it was something you disagreed with?

  7. Alexia, in your reply to Darren you nailed it (and answered my question). I just don’t think I could build a negative view of someone based on what they put online AFTER I met them or they were a friend, in the same way that a negative experience in real life would colour my view of them if I’d only known – and liked – them online before.

  8. @Darragh I’m not talking about a case of liking or disliking anyone, rather how a nugget of information can fire perception. Why are you viewing this as a negative here, Darragh? Intrigued.

    Yes, things I’ve read online have informed my perception of people, 99% for the positive. Judgement and reason always play a part. For example, it’s great when I discover that friends of mine have hidden talents. Happens me all the time. Those are parts that I probably would never have seen, had it not been for breadcrumbs. Actually found out a good friend of mine is a talented photographer and has a very cool photoblog. This is something I would never have discovered without breadcrumbing.

    And if it’s something I disagree with, I would like any reasonable person, search my own discriminations. Reason isn’t lost on the web, Darragh. We’re after all a community of many people, online it may be, but human it is definitely.

  9. Ach bugger, I don’t want it to come across as negative. Sorry. Like yourself all of the things I’ve found out about people have been positive, or have at least made me think “oooh, didn’t know that”. It’s just your original question – Have you changed the way you judge people after following their digital breadcrumbs? – has both positive and negative connotations, particularly around the word ‘judge’. I’m not picking you up on your words, just my understanding of it.

    I suppose my personal experience is one of two lives – my offline friends who don’t blog, have a bebo and that’s about it, and my online ones who inhabit this community. I can never know the latter as well as the first, but never get to know the first as “differently” as the latter. Like your friend with the photoblog I suppose.

  10. If I come across something on the web that opens up a new aspect of a friend/acquaintance then I’ll proceed to put it in perspective. While things live on the web forever our opinions only take a moment to formulate and blog, and they are so transient that something I firmly believe in one day may be changed the next by a new set of facts or differing situation.

    I would hope people who know me would also be able to take this into account when it comes to my digicrumbs.

    On a different note it is strange and sometimes pleasant to get a taste of someone’s personality that they might never have revealed personally to me or ever chose to. The web gives us a chance to reveal different degrees of self to certain people in certain ways, and I love digging about for stuff. Gawd, I went Googling my name there to see if I could dig up any dirt on myself! Sad!

  11. Somewhat like Darragh, it seems more and more that I’m getting to know more people by actually picking up the breadcrumbs (and probably only about 20% of them, for any given person) and will probably ultimately find that I barely know the people at all should I ever meet them.

    I mean, I only know you, Alexia, through your Blog and your Twitter. I don’t think I’m on your Facebook, and I didn’t know (or still don’t!) you kept a Tumblog. If I was going to the Tweetup on Friday (which I can’t, incidentally, a funeral in Meath calls, sadly) I’d probably find myself meeting entirely different people than the ones I’d have expected to.

    It only makes me wish that a service like HelloTxt would expand into the social networking arena and integrate your profiles on all of the above… if I could tell a networking site that my girlfriend’s Bebo, Facebook, Flickr and Twitter were all linked to the same person, and have it treat them as that, then online life would be a whole lot easier. Of course, then you’d just have competing sites and it would defeat the whole purpose. πŸ™‚

  12. I know I have at least three “faces” online. One is the blogger, which I am whenever I’m blogging or commenting. Second, the “gamer” – my attitude when on gaming forums and clan sites and others. And finally is the least-used “webmaster”. You really don’t want to meet this one, because you’ll see me blowing off at you every time you can’t put a simple CSS element in the right place.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.