My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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social technology: from MPD to Asperger’s?

When i first read the cyberculture literature from the late 80s and early 90s, i was left with an impression that early social technology was all based on the assumption that everyone had multiple personality disorder. Worse: if you didn’t have it, it was going to give you MPD. There were even references to the idea that everyone was partially MPD. This was all wrapped up in the rhetoric of be whoever you want to be – race, sex, sexuality does not matter. I found it horrifying and my repulsion grounded my demand to separate between digital fragmented identity and the process of maintaining a faceted identity.

I have a funny feeling that social technology is back to developing software based on disorders and instigating new ones in people. Only, we’ve move away from schizophrenia and onto autism. Did you ever get the sneaking suspicion that this new wave of “social software” is not really making social life easier, but permitting the kind of social awkwardness that is recognized in Asperger’s?

I wonder if this is intentional or a by-product of the tech culture. I’ve been fascinated to see a strong increase in the publicity of autism and Asberger’s lately and an even more noticeable increase in the number of people mocking others’ autistic tendencies with respect to the lack of social appropriateness.

[also posted to many-to-many]

Update: followups from Weinberger and jluster

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16 comments to social technology: from MPD to Asperger’s?

  • social technology: from MPD to Asperger’s?

    When i first read the cyberculture literature from the late 80s and early 90s, i was left with an impression that early social technology was all based on the assumption that everyone had multiple personality disorder. Worse: if you didn’t…

  • Social Super-Orders?

    Really briefly, there’s a fascinating and short post over at zephoria called Social Technology from MPD to Aspergers in which Danah says: I have a funny feeling that social technology is back to developing software based on disorders and instigating…

  • Social Super-Orders?

    Really briefly, there’s a fascinating and short post over at zephoria called Social Technology from MPD to Aspergers in which Danah says: I have a funny feeling that social technology is back to developing software based on disorders and instigating…

  • Social Super-Orders?

    Really briefly, there’s a fascinating and short post over at zephoria called Social Technology from MPD to Aspergers in which Danah says: I have a funny feeling that social technology is back to developing software based on disorders and instigating…

  • Found your blog through your Ani site after looking for some inspiring quote for my AIM profile. Interesting. 😉

  • Tim

    I can’t remember where I saw it, but maybe a year or three ago I remember reading an article about the prevalence of Asperger’s among geeks. It mentioned something about geeks marrying others and their kids having it in a much more pronounced way than their parents. It’d be a pain to Google but it might be relevant to any research you’re doing in this area.

    My theory: it takes a particular type of personality to be a nerd, and hence any characterizations of the online population are always going to be skewed.

  • uXd

    I read, infact I read a lot. after i’ve had my breakfast i read the blogs in the news category of the feedreader, at brunch i do the same, before i go to bed, I do the same.I also, digest about two to three books weekly, depending on my mood ofcou…

  • Social Networking Cartoons

    Ok I’m biased. I got a good conversation and a free meal out of somebody I hooked up with via Linked In so I’m a believer. I’ve been bribed and my opinion is now obviously suspect. That said, I think that a lot of people who are railing against these …

  • s.

    hi. i am just a passerby — originally i found this site years ago for ani lyrics, and i find your research interesting. you mention mpd above and i wondered if you were aware of how mpd was being treated paticularly in the early nineties. multiple personality disorder, not considered a real disorder anymore but similar to disociative identity disorder, was a very popular diagnosis in the early nineties due in part to some popular movies and books about it around that time. it is a disease of psychiatric professionals more than a disease of the patients they diagnosed. look into dr. kluft’s (he’s an mpd “expert”) work if you are interested and maybe some statistical info regarding diagnosis and treatment during particular periods of time (i don’t think anyone is diagnosed with the disease – mpd, not did – anymore). This context might account for the literature you mentioned about, because everybody and his mother at the time seemed to be diagnosed with the disease. the mpd diagnosing manuals for psychiatric professionals are interesting to read but quite frightening. also, i can’t imagine how technology would have caused mpd as it was supposedly the result of repeated psychological, often sexual, trauma at a young age – trauma so severe it caused dissociation. hope some of this info is either interesting or helpful 🙂

  • ken

    Interestingly, I heard an NPR story the other day that described America’s relationship to countries where we’ve defeated someone as “ADD”. Also, around “the office”, it is now very common to hear people discuss people, management style and business practices as being based upon ADD. I’m not exactly sure what to make of it, but thanks for bringing it to my attention to think about!

  • It seems to me that far too many geeks don’t have asperger, or “a mild form of autism” or $mental_disability_du_jour, but just like to think they have, so as to have an excuse for their behaviour, in particularly bad interpersonal skills and rudeness.

  • Autistic Social Software

    At Supernova, i gave a talk entitled “Autistic Social Software.” For those who couldn’t attend, i uploaded a crib of my talk. The premise of this talk emerged from my post from MPD to Asperger’s. I reflected on the connection…