Sarah Morgan

Healthcare Geek.
Professional Communicator.

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Shakespeare, the First Social Steganographer?

Researcher Dr. Danah Boyd (my new favorite blog) wrote a post called “Social Steganography” about how social media has caused many of us to become steganographers, and this has my attention all wrapped up.

It sounds complicated, but it’s not really. See, steganography is the art of hiding a message in plain sight. Because our social networks often link us to more than one group of friends at once, we can’t post exactly as if we were talking to just one or the other group. We have to adapt our social-network persona so it’s appropriate for everybody, but we develop the ability, sometimes, to say things that only certain people will fully understand. We learn how to say something that functions on a general level, but can also mean more in specific cases. We become steganographers.

Shakespeare was brilliant at that. His plots and characters and language worked for the royalty and the commoner, the educated and the illiterate. If you could see the joke, it was there for you – but if you didn’t, it didn’t stop things.

I wonder if we’ll still appreciate that ability more, or less, as we all develop that skill by necessity? Will we become more, or less, fascinated with noticing when it’s done well?

And I loved – which is to say, totally agreed with – what commenter to the article CGHill had to say: “There are people who are shocked to discover that I have my real name on my blog, my Facebook account, and even my Twitter account: what could I possibly be thinking? My reasoning, though, is simple: if I don’t appear to be secretive, it will create the illusion of transparency, and those who would otherwise discern my secrets will decide that I don’t have any secrets worth bothering with. The message is equally fuzzed up, but in a different way.

Sometimes in saying everything, you don’t say the important things at all. I think Shakespeare – about whom we know so little – would have approved.

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