Actually Foursquare is simply the looniest extreme of this mania for self-revelation. In pondering Nick Bilton’s story about his inadvertently broadcast dinner party, I was suddenly reminded of Erving Goffman’s great book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, which first appeared in 1959 and which I read as a student in the late 1960s. In it, Goffman uses a theatrical metaphor to interpret social interactions between people. In everyday life, he argues, we are all actors, each of us playing a variety of roles. The audience consists of the other people with whom we interact. And, as in the theater, we operate in two zones — one when we are, as it were, on stage, and the other when the curtain is down and we can revert to being ourselves and discard the role or identity we assume when in the presence of others.
Goffman’s analysis was entirely predicated on the face-to-face encounters of social life as it used to be in a pre-Internet age. In those days, it really was possible to go backstage, as it were: to discard one’s public face and be oneself. It still is, but now you have to switch off your phone and resist the egotistical temptations of social networking and location-based services. And, hey! — if you do that, then maybe people will start inviting you to dinner again.