privacy and technology
February 5, 2008
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A few months ago I was looking for ani difranco lyrics when I stumbled on a blog, apophenia, that I find fascinating, and which I now read often. Indeed, she does have more ani lyrics than any other site I’ve found. She also has very interesting thoughts on topics that I haven’t spent a lot of time analyzing, such as social networks. She’s looking at these topics in an academic-yet-grounded way, is the best way I can explain it. Recently she posted on privacy and technology, specifically referring to Google’s Social Graph api, but there is a wider context. Her focus in her articles is almost always the impact on teens, that is what she studies, yet she clearly sees the potential impact for other groups…such as activists.
As social beings, we are constantly exposing ourselves to the public eye. We go to restaurants, get on public transport, wander around shopping centers, etc. One of the costs of fame is that celebrities can no longer participate in this way. The odd thing about forced exposure is that it creates a scenario where everyone is a potential celebrity, forced into approaching every public interaction with the imagined costs of all future interpretations of that ephemeral situation. This is not just a matter of illegal acts, but even minor embarrassing ones. Both have psychological costs. Celebrities become hermits to cope (and when they break… well, we’ve all seen Britney). Do we really want the entire society to become hermits to cope with exposure? Hell, we’re doing that with our anti-terrorist rhetoric and I think it’s fucking up an entire generation.
Of course, teens are only one of the populations that such exposure will effect. Think about whistle blowers, women or queer folk in repressive societies, journalists, etc. The privileged often argue that society will be changed if all of those oppressed are suddenly visible. Personally, I don’t think that risking people’s lives is a good way to test this philosophy. There’s a lot to be said for being “below the radar” when you’re a marginalized person wanting to make change. Activists in repressive regimes always network below the radar before trying to go public en masse. I’m not looking forward to a world where their networking activities are exposed before they reach critical mass. Social technologies are super good for activists, but not if activists are going to constantly be exposed and have to figure out how to route around the innovators as well as the governments they are seeking to challenge.
Food for thought, perhaps.