(taking notes from a presentation at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center, December 6, 2011)
(David Weinberger has a much better writeup.)
Jeff Jarvis rake thin, grey-haired, dressed in black and bearded, and has had cancer, but any similarity with Steve Jobs stops there. His latest book, Public Parts, advocates more openness in a time concerned with privacy yet somehow unable to press that “like” button on Facebook.
His key point is that the tools of publicness need to be protected – and though privacy and publicness is not in opposition – and his fear that privacy concerns are misapplied and sometimes dangerous.
When Kodak was invented, there were articles written about “fiendish Kodakers” lying in wait, and the cameras were banned in some public parks. Anxiety about privacy goes back to the Gutenberg press, microphones, video cameras. Society is looking for norms, but legislates to keep the past, in terms of the past.
The tools of making publics: Habermas said public discourse started in coffee houses in the 18th century as a counterweight to government power. It was ruined by mass media. Now we have the tools of publicness, and we get things like Occupy Wall Street. Jeff started (after a few glasses of Pinot Noir) the #fuckyouwashington tag, which spawned a platform with more than 110,000 tweets.
The Gutenberg parentheses: Before Gutenberg, knowledge was non-linear, with Gutenberg it became linear, after Gutenberg it is non-linear and the knowledge we revere is the net. Danish professors arguing that the transition into Gutenberg was hard, and the transition out of it will be equally hard. Web content still shaped as analogues of the past.
Had to understand what privacy is – first take was that it had something to do with control. Came to think that privacy is an ethic. This means that publicness is also an ethic, an ethic of sharing information. Sharing his prostate cancer, including impotence, on the web. Hard to do, but got tremendous value out of it. Various people contributed to the blog, telling things that the doctors won’t say, etc.
We need to learn from young people how to control sharing. Danah Boyd: COPA requires companies not to keep information about children younger than 13. But more than 50% of 12-year olds had Facebook – “on the internet everyone’s 14.” Sullivan principles (developed for apartheid) may help: Rules for companies to operate in South Africa.
Jarvis propose some principles:
- We have the right to connect.
- We have the right to speak.
- We have the right to assemble and to act.
- Privacy is an ethic of knowing
- Publicness is an ethic of sharing
- Our institutions’ information should be public by default, secret by necessity
- What is public is a public good
- All bits are created equal
- Internet must stay open and distributed
Fear that governments and companies will take this away.
Various questions in the question round – but the discussion didn’t really take off.
Jeff comes off somewhat like his books: Well articulated and with many interesting and well described examples, but I keep looking for some more analysis and less description. More depth, simply, not just a plea that openness is good and we need to develop norms on how to handle it. But the “history of the private and the public” part of his book is very good. And it does make for an interesting read.