The Public, the Private, and the Internet

This feature from New York magazine is excellent, and certainly worth a brief comment. It asserts there is a generational gap caused by young people using the Internet to disclose incredibly personal detail and find others through such openness. The generational gap is so severe, it is as if there is no such thing as “the private” anymore: people are wholly public, and it makes perfect sense why Paris Hilton would be a role model of sorts, since she knows how to deal with the problem of there being “too much information” about her: she uses it to her advantage and wears a very thick skin.

The only thing I would suggest is that one might want to consider that the private reigns supreme, contra to the article. We probably have not had any sense of what is truly “public” for quite some time. The idea that “having privacy” alone means there is a legitimate public/private distinction that can be drawn is very problematic, especially given that these young people profiled are only “public” in the sense they disclose all their private information. Also, the article does say that the young people it discusses have a sense of shame. I’m a bit skeptical about their evidence for that claim.

Another set of issues to consider is what happens when one’s online persona has negative things associated with it. I am well aware of my arrogance, and the fact that I’ve said things in forums and comment threads and especially on Instant Messenger that are downright cruel. The way I work with that is to say “what’s done is done,” and then write something or say something or do something that makes what is bad pale in comparison. I think that’s the most honest way to deal with such things, because to have a wholly positive image is an unreal expectation.

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3 Comments

  1. What is the public/private distinction? You are right to point out that these people are only “public” by divulging their private info. Is there such a thing as a public space? Or is the public what is left after we have established the private? I guess I am asking which came first the public or the private?

    Almost paradoxical. Other than pondering the imponderable I have been doing less than nothing today. A great use of my time, eh?

  2. Would privacy only be required in a society where freedom does not overwhelmingly exist? Is it a protection against those that would use information against us?
    Is it a sign of the times that we are actually gaining more freedom and have less fear of reprisal? Personally, I think there is more to be gained from truthful and candid conversations with other people when you open up to them. However, life is often a competition. The downside is that if a person opens up completely then their opponents in life will know exactly what they are doing.

    You have to possess and employ intelligence to win at chess. You have to be extremely intelligent to win at chess when you tell the other person what you are doing, how you are doing it and why you are doing it at the beginning of the game, during the game and as you reach checkmate.

    And then there are the people that openly lie, they typically become President.

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