Let’s Get Naked: Benefits of Publicness v. Privacy

Loose note from the SXSW 2011 session “Let’s Get Naked: Benefits of Publicness v. Privacy” by Jeff Jarvis, professor, CUNY.

I saw a lot of inspiring stuff at SXSW this year, but Jarvis’ talk was by far the most fascinating. The internet has plenty of privacy advocates (most of them fear-mongers), but very few public-ness advocates. Jarvis made a compelling case of the critical function of public dialog and against over-use of private or semi-private “walled gardens” like the ones found on Facebook. Jarvis is not opposed to privacy, but he sees it becoming the default position for so much of what we do online, and the internet suffering because of it.

I personally have a lot of similar feelings, but Jarvis articulated them in ways I never could. Planning to read his book soon.

Author of “What Would Google Do?” and the upcoming “Public Parts: The price of privacy, the value of publicness.” Directs the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. Blogs at Buzzmachine.com

Public and private are not binary – these are not mutually exclusive.

In days of Gutenberg, there was much fear about works being made public. We got used to it.

Invention of the Kodak camera tied to the “penny press” (small newspapers) – anyone could take an image of you and it could show up in the newspaper.

Jump past a whole raft of inventions that freaked out the public again and again about the right to privacy. People saying “We don’t know what’s going to happen with this, let’s guard against this.”

Internet is causing the greatest freakout over privacy ever. It’s not irrational.

(g) The Gutenberg Parenthesis
Argues that before Gutenberg we were an oral based society. Knowledge wasn’t owned and authored as it was remixed. Then came Gutenberg years – we became textually based. So we expected the world to be serial, to have a begging and an end. These are characteristics of the textual age. Now we are coming to end of the parentheses – we are becoming orally based again (a different sense of the word “oral”, meaning “stuff is passed around.”) We are experiencing a confusion now that’s similar to what we experienced going into the era.

Germans are extreme about privacy. “You mustn’t tell people about that – no one needs to know that.” So there was a big freakout in Germany over Buzz, and GMail, and Facebook, etc. Streetview was sabotaged – old ladies hitting camera with bats, etc. Germans invented a new word “das Verpixelungsrecht” – “How dare you show my house?!” But it’s a picture taken of a public place with a public view. By desecrating these images the germans are desecrating the public space.

How strange – the German sauna is mixed gender and naked. Germans seem to care about the privacy of everything but their private parts.

So… why is the private private and the public public?

Point is, every culture has different definitions of privacy. Trying to define it is extremely difficult. It really comes down to hurt feelings – what will other people think of me?

Jarvis: Privacy is the responsibility of knowing. You and I have a social compact that I shouldn’t mess up your privacy.

The ethic of publicness: The responsibility of sharing.

An ethic of privacy:
– Don’t steal information
– Protect information
– Context matters
– Give credit
– Be transparent about use
– Give access
– Don’t use it against the person (unless he deserves it; whistleblower clause)
– Return value

We need to figure out how to operate as public beings. Publicness is an act of generosity.

We’re trying to figure out the structure of society, because so much has changed. Zuckerberg has gotten into trouble for saying we have one identity. J. Allison in contrast says we have many (work identity, personal identity, etc.) At the end of the day we have an inner self we think is our true self and we have an outer self we show – if these are different, we risk being inauthentic.

Not arguing that everything needs to be public – we wear clothes, right? You’re welcome.

What is “oversharing?” It’s in the ears of the beholder. Maybe overhearing is overlistening, not over-speaking. I can always unfollow you, right?

The benefits of publicness:

There are so many benefits to being public – meeting people, networking, etc.

Jarvis now talking about his penis. He had prostate cancer this year. Now incontinent, impotent. He has chosen to talk about his penis. He wrote “The Penis Post” on BuzzMachine, now famous.  This started a flood of follow-ups and comments, first by people posting anonymously, then started using their real names, and a community grew out of it. In this case, Jarvis took something most people consider private, made it public, and many benefits came of that.

– Makes relationships
– Enables collaboration
– Builds trust
– Disarms the myth of perfection
– Neutralizes stigmas
– Grants immortality (or credit)
– Enables the wisdom of the crowd
– Organizes us
– Protects
– Creates value

We in the U.S. are saddled with the myth of perfection.

The fact that gays and lesbians are in the closet is a function of the social view of gays, not of themselves. By coming out, the homosexual says “too bad, I’m public just like you.”

Zuck’s law: “Next year, people will share twice as much informatio as they share this year and next year, they will be sharing twice as much.”

Zuck believes a public society is a better society (this seems weird to me since so many people keep their Facebook info private – and I agree with Zuck that it makes sense to encourage people toward using more public privacy settings).

There is not “one public sphere” – we have many publics. The public sphere is a sphere of spheres.

Twitter didn’t attack the police in Egypt, the people did.

Government: Transparent by default, secret by necessity.

Assange: An agent of publicness. The lesson of Wikileaks is that no secret is safe anymore. There should be secrecy! But another lesson from Wikileaks was that there was very little harm in publicness. That our diplomats are doing a good job. That we way over-classify information (most of the stuff was harmless and shouldn’t have been secret to begin with). Government lost its credibility as the center of secrets.

It’s more than just secrets. It’s also that we the people OWN what’s public.

Walled or Open? Or opaque? Or transparent? Or closed? We were making these decisions in 1465 and we’re making them again now.

Privacy has its advocates. Plenty of them. But publicness also needs its advocates (Jarvis is hoping that’s us).

Beware privacy’s industrial/regulatory complex. Self-appointed privacy advocates scaring the crap out of people, and businesses trying to profit from this fear.

John Perry Barlow: “On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone… You have no sovereignty where we gather.”

Who will protect our tool of publicness, the internet? Governments? Google? No, us. We will.

Principles in cyberspace:
We have a right to connect.
We have the right to speak.
We have the right to assemble and at.
Privacy is a responsibility of knowing.
Publicness is a responsibility of sharing.
Government information should be public by default, secret by necessity
What is public is a public good.
All bits are created equal.
The intern shall be open and distributed.

Al Franken, SXSW 2011: “It’s time for us to use the internet to save the internet.”

For the first time in history, we all have our own Gutenberg. Use it.

Open discussion

Jarvis doesn’t like the idea of a Facebook Dislike button – yes it would add more gravitas to the discourse, but there’s so much nastiness out there, so much ugliness, we don’t need to encourage more negative discourse.

Every time some one uses the word “creepy,” ask them to define what they mean by it. Most of the time, people have no idea what it is they really fear.

Dana Boyd: If we overprotect children online, we’re not teaching them how to grow up. If we push the “stranger danger” thing too far, they’ll get a very skewed version of what it means to be a member of society.

Audience: We need to teach kids how to be good members of society. Part of that is knowing how to be good digital citizens. Not just interacting with the walled garden of Facebook, but really participating.

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