The Erosion of Privacy and the Rise of Publicness...And Why It's a Good Thing
Gabriel García Márquez once wisely observed, “Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life, and a secret life.”
In an era where individuals take to social networks to not only connect with one another, but also share experiences, the “statusphere” as I call it, is transforming a media ecosystem into a very personal EGOsystem.
In social media, we choose the life we broadcast through every status update, tweet, video, post, comment, and like we share. And, whether we realize or disregard it, the culmination of these fragmented digital shadows we cast, depict a semblance of the real you. The question is, which sliver of you do people say and how are you judged in the absence of your narration or explanation of what’s assembled.
We live in interesting times and while we’re fascinated by the ability to share our thoughts and experiences to an aspiring online audience, we’re still in the early stages of learning just what it all means and doesn’t mean.
Indeed, we are the last generation to know privacy as it was. It is now something that will have to be taught. And more importantly, what we share online, will now require thoughtful curation to deliberately construct a more accurate and desirable portrayal of who you are and how you wish to be perceived.
Profiles as a Window to the Soul
You are the star of your own reality show – online and ultimately in the real world. In the motion picture trailer for the “Social Network,” a fictionalized account of the origins of Facebook, a rendition of Radiohead’s Creep is sung a cappella. A key verse stands out, “I want you to notice…” And there in lies the inspiration for social networking, the understated, willful and dramatic leap between privacy and publicness. This transformation is propelled by the very human need for acceptance, the trading of solitude for a new type of freedom. We do so in the hopes of earning the attention and connection of our peers and peers of peers. We hope to connect not only with those we know, but also those we wish to know as well as those who wish to know us.
The Individualist Revolution as I call it is actually much more empowering than we may realize today. The modification in this new societal architecture is as alarming as it is awakening and advantageous. While we are in control of our privacy settings in each of the various social networks in which we engage, we are also in control of all that we share and refrain from sharing. Consider social networking as a choice between monologue and inner monologue. If our words speak to who we are then our silence is equally telling.
We are perceived by more than our avatars, bios, wallpaper, apps, and custom tabs.
In social networks, we are the architects of our experiences and also the personal impressions we create and display for others to interpret. I believe that the empowerment in social networking is evident in the confidence we gain from participating online and sharing personal aspects, thoughts, vulnerabilities, and knowledge. We’re inspired to amplify what we share based on the responses we engender. We receive rewards as a result of meaningful engagement, which range from comments, accolades, shares, likes, posts, bookmarks and most importantly, requests for new connections. Over time, how we participate online equates to varying levels of trust, respect, friendship, and relationships – each representative of social capital.
While human beings are social creatures by nature, to what extent is By definition, I’m an introvert. I’ve used social networking as a means to facilitate conversations online and also offline and I’ve experienced something quite special over the years – the ability to expand my social graph online and in real world settings. As a result, I believe the loss of certain aspects of privacy as we knew it opens doors and unlocks opportunities for us.
This newfound system of rewards equalizes networking by injecting doses of confidence every time we earn positive reactions. It encourages us to gain prominence online and offline for the (low or high) price of layered privacy. Essentially, we are forcing a personal metamorphosis from introvert to digital extrovert.
The Social Economics of Publicness and Privacy
Facebook and socialized media encourage participation and increasing aspects of publicness in exchange for a form of recompense. We are compelled to share information for the instant reward of reaction and linkage. These exchanges serve as currency and set the framework for a social economy where capital is earned and spent in public markets. Experts agree citing economic implications where the value of privacy and publicity have flipped.
Sam Lessin, founder of Drop.io astutely captured this socio-economical shift when he spoke at a recent gathering of technology entrepreneurs in New York, “Privacy was once free. Publicity was once ridiculously expensive. Now the opposite is true: You have to pay in a mix of cash, time, social capital, etc. if you want privacy.”
Moved by Lessin’s statement, Jeff Jarvis, a noted media pundit and author of Public Parts, a wonderful book that explores the benefits of publicness, observed, “Once-abundant privacy is now scarce. Once-scarce publicness is now abundant.”
This is where education becomes paramount. Privacy is now in desperate need of elucidation to all generations in order to architect our “personal brands” and shape the experiences and perceptions of others. The painful truth is that what hasn’t changed in new media, is that people are inherently judgmental. Therefore, I’d argue that publicity, not publicness is abundant. It is this publicity that accounts for the noise in social streams. I would hope that publicness could resemble the notion of “publicy” and not publicity While it doesn’t roll of the tongue with eloquence and grace, what it represents is the vanguard for controlled and managed publicity.
In the social economy, capital is accumulated through curated and intentional publicness or publicy. Inversely, the acts of privacy hinder its accumulation.
In describing publicy, Laurent Haug paints a picture of what he refers to as the “plausible you,” but it is his idea around new privacy and intention that serves as the light at the end of the tunnel:
Now that you are back in the driver seat, you have your privacy back. Just of a different kind. You have built a space that could be called “publicy”, or “the plausible me”. It is a credible space where people expect to see information about you. Whatever credible information you say in there will be taken as true by the world. That is your new privacy. A space that is public but that you control, where you can say anything you want and have it taken as true.
As Scott McNealy bluntly put it, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”
The question is, knowing this, what are you going to do about it?
While getting over it is a bit extreme, Let’s just say that you have all of the power at your fingertips to define the “plausible you” – the person and brand you wish others to see, admire, respect, and trust. It’s a shift from privacy where Jarvis’ idea of publicness allows us to become the “change we wish to see” to build more meaningful relationships and through transparency earn a new level of trust that unlocks new opportunities.
In Conclusion…But Really, It’s the Beginning
We are the last generation to know privacy as it was. Now, privacy is something that requires education. What works against us, also works for us, and as such, our reputation, our brand, and how we’re perceived is within our grasp to define and shape. We are not at the mercy of Google or any social network. It is up to us to take control of our identity and guide the image and findable information of those we know and care about.
This is our moment to cease the casting of meaningless digital shadows and embrace a more meaningful and beneficial method of casting exemplary digital projections.
In light of a much more public web, perhaps its in our best interest to follow the wise words of George Bernard Shaw, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
Brian Solis is principal at Altimeter Group, a research-based advisory firm. Solis is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders and published authors in new media. A digital analyst, sociologist, and futurist, Solis has studied and influenced the effects of emerging media on business, marketing, publishing, and culture. His current book, Engage, is regarded as the ...
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