Public AND Private

I have been slumbering around here pretending to write down Hamiltonians and regretting never having given general relativity more than a casual thought while a student. But now I am wide awake after reading this little item at ARS ELECTRONICA titled “Goodbye Privacy”.

If truth, as stated by McGinn, is the unique property of a proposition from which one can deduce the fact stated by that proposition, then I must wake up!

A new culture of everyday life is now upon us, bracketed by the angst-inducing scenarios of seamless surveillance and the zest we bring to staging our public personas via digital media. One in which everything seems to be public and nothing’s private anymore. Panopticon or consummate individual freedom of expression?

Public does not happen at the expense of private, so it is not goodbye privacy! If the organizers of ARS ELECTRONICA picked the title just to activate some of us in our slumber, then they succeeded. However I suspect that here there was more confusion than any intent to wake me up.


My take on this has several aspects. First anybody is free to disclose anything that they want on the Web, but then that was already a possibility with the printing press, and the old fashioned pornography industry lost no time with it and has used every technological tool within reach. Duh. Nothing new.

Second, even those committing the horrible trespass of TMI while twittering, jaiku-ing or blogging, may or may not be revealing private information. At worse they may be boring an audience, but then, the audience can always zap the channel. It could be that they eventually find themselves screaming out loud into a listening vacuum, but that is besides the point. This could, after all, be a new form of zen meditation… or not.

Third, if you are surfing and searching the net unprotected – not anonymously – you are broadcasting your actions, and if nobody else, your ISP and the search engines you use have information that can be used to construct a profile. We all know that technology is hackable, and so it has always been, and you can also have your own bots to create a specific trace for your profile. That is to say, those who care to remain anonymous will, and that for which ever reason. Profiling can be done, its meaning can be debatable and its accuracy widely disputed. Again, the possibility of profiling individuals and organizations delivers fertile grounds, verdant fields, and majestic heap loads of speculative objects for both science fiction writers and the paranoid.

Fourth, it is too easy to be light headed about using the the Web as an experimental social interaction field. Especially when very young, it is too easy to compromise one’s identity and security and publish information that will turn out to be compromising later on in life. After all, archiving of what has once become public information is still nothing that the author has much control of. I really do not want to go into the debate of what MySpace is or decides.

So, how does one navigate authenticity while maintaining the integrity of one’s identity and privacy while living in public?

Why am I writing about this here? I am following the public debate on how the use of the Web is evolving from the point of view of the interaction between man and technology.