I recently stumbled upon an October 17 2011 jeremiad by Nathan Jurgenson calling for public intellectuals to regain the lost ground in technology writing that has been yielded to business-oriented writers:
Nathan Jurgenson, The Rise of the Internet (Anti)-Intellectual?
My goal in this short piece is to encourage the reader to take a look at these two essays in tandem to suggest a further conversation about the need for public intellectuals, the role of academics in framing theories of new technologies and what the consequences are when we leave this discussion to be dominated by business folks.
Jurgenson’s post uses Larry Sanger’s Is There a New Geek Anti-Intellectualism? and Evengy Morozov’s The Internet Intellectual as a two-lane point of departure, and as a result Jurgenson winds up commenting on Jarvis’ techno-utopian views on the privacy-publicy debate (which Jarvis calls publicness, and Jurgenson calls publicity). That debate is actually a side track to Jurgenson’s actual point:
My problem is really not with Jarvis, but the fact that these “books that should have remained a tweet”, as Morozov states, have dominated the conversation about what the rise of new and social media means. I do not care that these fun little books exist, but that they are dominating the public conversation.
Perhaps the fault lies with the more rigorous intellectuals, both in and outside academia, who have made themselves largely absent from the public conversation about new technologies? Where is the Marshall McLuhan of social media? Why is it that Jeff Jarvis is setting the public conversation on publicity, Andrew Keen on amateurism, Tapscott and Williams on prosumption, Siva Vaidhyanathan on the impact of Google on society or Chris Anderson on abundance economies and “free”? To be clear, I think it is good that these folks hit on important topics in a catchy way. But they cannot be the whole picture, nor should they even be at the center. None of them provide a rigorous historical or theoretical treatment of their topics. (We called out Siva Vaidhyanathan on this blog after attending his a-theoretical talk at a public university).
If we can indeed convince more scholars to take on these topics, and there are many who are doing so already, do they have any chance at being public intellectuals? That is, can the ideas be delivered in a way that engages those interested, regardless if they have a degree in any specific field? For intellectuals to be public intellectuals they will need to be as engaging of writers as those authors listed above.
Or maybe the blame for the Sesame Street level books that dominate tech-writing is that publishers simply are not allowing public intellectuals to publish their ideas? I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has insights into this area.
In the meantime, I think the two essays linked to above are an important pairing to start a conversation over who gets to frame how new technologies are understood. Will it be a-historical, a-theoretical, non-rigorous business folks or can we inspire a new wave of technology-centered public intellectuals?
I consider myself a public intellectual, I guess. And I agree with a lot of Jurgenson and Sanger are saying (less so Morozov). However, I don’t side with the Nick Carr and Andrew Keen that the web is making us stupid, any more than Tapscott’s argument that Google makes memorization passé, or Shirky’s arguments that books like War and Peace are no longer worth the effort.
But this is just another example of the extremes dominating the discourse, which is a game that the media are happy to play, and sells lots of fun, little books. But then again, didn’t Marshall McLuhan write a lot of fun, little books?
[Returning again to the proximate cause — the privacy-publicy debate — I agree that no contemporary book pulls together all the threads well. All I can do today is offer a sampler of some of my writing on the subject, which I confess has not been smoothed into a single long form piece, although I would like to do so. For those interested, see A Publicy Reader.]
Megan Garber looks at some new research on privacy considerations in Facebook photo tagging by João Paulo Pesce and others, and boils it down for us:
On Facebook, Your Privacy Is Your Friends’ Privacy - Megan Garber via The Atlantic
The upshot? “Photo-tags can threaten privacy burdens in an indirect way,” the authors note, “by pinpointing the nodes in the social graphs on which privacy-attacking algorithms may extract information, thus enhancing their accuracy.” The social networks themselves, the researchers suggest, could work to solve that problem — by, say, creating a “hiding” feature that would allow users to disguise tags and prevent their unauthorized use without fully deleting them. Which would definitely be a nice thing to have. But the real solution, it seems, will be a social one, fit for the age of the social network. And it will start with users re-conceiving of themselves not simply as users sharing their own information, but as actors and influencers who are responsible for the network at large.
To turn this around, away from the conventional conservation-of-privacy ideal, we can say that publicy is an outcome of the social actions of social network participants, an emergent property. As individual’s add social metadata incrementally, others — or algorithms — could explore that metadata and be able to make potentially revealing inferences, like who was with who at a bar, what Facebook friends are actually close, and what connections are romantically involved.
The lack of moral outrage around the recent Supreme Court case — finding that anyone charged of a crime can be strip searched, even when there is no evidence of contraband or concealed weapons — may be the result of the relaxation of our sense of privacy, in general.
Strip-Search Case Reflects Death of American Privacy - Noah Feldman via Bloomberg
There are two main drivers pushing privacy into the dustbin of history, and both are related to technology. One is the increasing effectiveness of government surveillance. Cameras follow you in most public places in London today, and New York is catching up. Diffusion scanners at the airport already show you essentially naked. The coalition Conservative-Liberal Democratic government in the U.K. is preparing to allow the state to collect, without a warrant or even suspicion, all information on calls or texts except the content. The government’s ability to do all of these things causes many of us to think, irrationally, that it is reasonable for it to do so.
The other driving force is our increasing willingness to sacrifice privacy for practical advantage. When you sign up for a free Gmail account, you agree to allow a computer program to read all your e-mails. This is hardly a secret: The ads that pop up on your browser often relate to the text of the e-mail you have sent or received. Google Inc. gambled that people would rationalize the loss of privacy by saying that no human was reading the text. Google was right. The list goes on: Global-positioning-system technology on your mobile phone helps you find out where you are — and enables anyone with access to your provider to do the same.
We all know that our sense of privacy has been changing. It seems that every time you ride the bus you hear one-half of the most intimate conversations imaginable — emanating from a total stranger with a phone to his ear. The justices cannot help but be affected by these trends. Privacy is defined constitutionally by “reasonable expectation” of what should be private. This may sound circular, but it is in fact inevitable. The concept of privacy is inherently flexible, and the less we value it, the less our judicial institutions will protect it for us.
And if we drop our ‘reasonable expectations’ then we may be less surprised when people have to drop their pants, as well.
We are moving to a coercively public society, where publicy is the norm, and privacy — or the demand for it — will be cast as the intimation of illegal, immoral, or unreasonable behavior. This is why prospective employers believe they are justified in asking candidates for their facebook passwords, despite the illegality of ‘show-ercion’ of this sort.
And the publicy bias is going to grow.
Doing a presentation next week in San Francisco, Data Is The New Oil: The Journey From Privacy To Publicy.I will be sharing the podium with Gerd Leonhard, Andreas Weigend, and Jamais Cascio.
I am likely to use some of the slides in the deck above, Big And Small Data.
I’ve heard we are going to have a packed house, so If you want to attend you should sign up right away.
Goodbye, anonymity: Latest surveillance tech can search up to 36 million faces per second
Welcome to the next generation in surveillance technology. A Japanese company, Hitachi Kokusai Electric, has unveiled a novel surveillance camera that is able to capture a face and search up to 36 million faces in one second for a similar match in its database.
While the same task would typically require manually sifting through hours upon hours of recordings, the company´s new technology searches algorithmically for a facial match. It enables any organization, from a retail outlet to the government, to monitor and identify pedestrians or customers from a database of faces.
Hitachi’s software is able to recognize a face with up to 30 degrees of deviation turned vertically and horizontally away from the camera, and requires faces to fill at least 40 pixels by 40 pixels for accurate recognition. Any image, whether captured on a mobile phone, handheld camera, or a video still, can be uploaded and searched against its database for matches.
“This high speed is achieved by detecting faces through image recognition when the footage from the camera is recorded, and also by grouping similar faces,” Seiichi Hirai, Hitachi Kokusai Electric researcher told DigInfo TV.
Photo Credit: (fastcompany.com)
Facebook May Take Legal Action Over Employer Password Requests - Matt Brian via thenextweb
So, employers or colleges that are demanding access to private information on Facebook (or other web sites) are entering a legal minefield, and we will have to wait for court case to see how that shakes out. Morally, however, it is unambiguous shoercion: coercing individuals to show private information.
I will be speaking with Gerd Leonhard, Andreas Wiegand, and (hopefully) Jamais Cascio at an event in San Francisco, 10 April 2012, sponsored by Swissex.
The theme is Data is the New Oil: The Journey from Privacy to Publicy. As every web page we visit is logged, and every comment and tweet analyzed for sentiment and intention, more data is being logged weekly than existed on earth a few years ago, prior to the rise of the social web. We will explore the connections between our connected world and the complexities and challenges of a data economy.
If you are interested in attending, please register quickly, since there are only 150 or so seats.
Privacy Management On Social Media Sites by Mary Madden via Pew
Social network users are becoming more active in pruning and managing their accounts. Women and younger users tend to unfriend more than others.
About two-thirds of internet users use social networking sites (SNS) and all the major metrics for profile management are up, compared to 2009: 63% of them have deleted people from their “friends” lists, up from 56% in 2009; 44% have deleted comments made by others on their profile; and 37% have removed their names from photos that were tagged to identify them.
How to read the ‘unfriending’ trend?
One option: This rise in unfriending might not be about friendship, per se. People might be just throttling back the torrent of information that they are receiving in their social streams: stream overload.
But the deleting of comments and removing name tags from photos would represent very different, and possibly more privacy-oriented motivations. However, if I delete a comment because someone writes something offensive, is that a privacy issue? Or is it a more of a cultivated image being publicly displayed? That would make it a publicy issue.
I think we will have to get a lot more fine-grained in determining causality in these cases, and more attuned to the publicy/Goffman angle: the presentation of self in everyday online life.
- Zachary Wolff, Twitter: To log or not to log: Is that the question? via the dialog
Wolff goes on to discuss the #NOLOGS policy being promoted by WikiLeaks and other groups concerned with publicy. I can’t say this is a concern for privacy since twitter messages are in general public.
MY bet is that #NOLOGS wont’ work, simply because there are so many organizations that are logging tweets through different means. It’s not just a matter of convincing the folks at Twitter to not log your tweets. If I can read them, for example, can’t I log them on my hard drive?
Google and Carnegie Mellon researchers team up on cloud-powered facial recognition that would enable you to take a photo of a complete stranger and track their real identity in mere minutes