The Transparent Life
People are always saying to me something to the effect, "I can't believe how much of yourself you reveal online." I always reply to them that they are mistaken, "You should see the stuff I don't write about!" I can tell by their expressions that they have a hard time imagining what remains hidden in the world of a queer, former drug addict who listens to the Grateful Dead while promoting anarchistic libertarian politics.
I often describe this blog as a prototype for online life as it will be lived in the future, when the millions of young Americans who have been chronicling their lives since they were children enter adulthood and beyond. That will be a world of minimal privacy, at least as we currently understand the term, but Jeff Jarvis tells us in his new book that privacy is overrated anyway.
But still, I hear, hasn’t life become too public? What has become of privacy? “Nothing you do ever goes away and nothing you do ever escapes notice,” Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the internet and most recently a Google executive, told an audience in Seattle. Then he added—please note, with irony—“There isn’t any privacy, get over it.” He’s right. I say privacy is one of the most overused fear words of the age. Privacy is not the issue. Control is. We need control of our personal information, whether it is made public and to whom, and how it is used. That is our right, at least for matters outside the public sphere.
The ethics and expectations of privacy have changed radically in Generation G. People my age and older fret at all the information young people make public about themselves. I try to explain that this sharing of personal information is a social act. It forms the basis of the connections Google makes possible. When we reveal something of ourselves publicly, we have tagged ourselves in such a way that we can be searched and found under that description. As I said in the chapter on health, I now can be found in a search for my heart condition, afib. That is how others came to me and how we shared information. Publicness brings me personal benefits that outweigh the risks.
Publicness also brings us collective benefits, as should be made clear by now from the aggregated wisdom Google gathers and shares back with us thanks to our public actions: our searches, clicks, links, and creations. Publicness is a community asset. The crowd owns the wisdom of the crowd and to withhold information from that collective knowledge—a link, a restaurant rating, a bit of advice—may be a new definition of antisocial or at least selfish behavior.
For all these reasons and one more powerful than any of them—ego—we will continue to reveal more of ourselves online. We will want to speak and to be discovered. Our online shadows become our identities. To stand out from our crowd, we need distinct identities. I’ll bet we’ll soon see parents giving children unique names so they can stand alone in Google searches. Wired editor Chris Anderson linked to an early indication of the trend: Laura Wattenberg, author of The Baby Name Wizard, reported that in the 1950s, a quarter of all children got one of the top 10 baby names; more recently that has fallen to a tenth. I was about to predict that someday soon, parents would check to assure the .com domain for a name is available before giving the moniker to a baby. Then I searched on Google and, sure enough, the Associated Press reported in 2007 that it’s already happening: “In fact, before naming his child, Mark Pankow checked to make sure ‘BennettPankow.com’ hadn’t already been claimed. ‘One of the criteria was, if we liked the name, the domain had to be available,’ Pankow said.” At last check, young Bennett wasn’t blogging, but his digital destiny is set.
Google, owner of Blogger.com, held a party for some of their top talent at the SXSW music and media conference (my invitation must have gotten lost in the mail). Anyway, they seem to know what their guests want to do.
Different is Good
The radio station that calls itself The River has a new company car. Pretty cool.
Did Elvis come in that car? The spirit of Mr. Presley was conjured up this morning in front of the Northampton courthouse by Lord Russ of Aloha Steamtrain etc. etc. doing his Elvis shtick. That's in contrast to the demented Elvis shtick he did last year (below) at the gay pride parade. (Bill Dwight photo)
This was the straight Elvis, and I must admit he's good. The majestic front steps of the courthouse did indeed seem like an entrance fit for a king.
He had some witty Elvis banter between songs, such as, "Nice to be here at the courthouse, maybe my pharmacist is on trial inside!"
Well at least Elvis has a sense of humor about his sordid side.
A scene re-enacted in bedrooms all across America.