Owning Your Digital Self

Despite the power of new communication and publishing technologies, I’ve generally used these platforms to share things with relatively small groups of friends, family, and coworkers.  I wanted to have some sort of privacy.  The problem with that is digital media doesn’t lend itself to limitations on distribution.  Plus, nobody has much control over what gets posted anyway.

Even for the most hardened defenders of privacy, choosing not to participate online is not really a choice at all since you won’t be present to manage or claim your digital self.  You are even worse off in this case.  If you’re going to participate in life, there will be content involving you in the public realm that other people will consume and distribute without your approval.

So, I’m over it.  I don’t think living a truly private life is possible and I’m not sure what there is to hide in any case.  But that’s not event the point. The value of broadly connecting to others by sharing your ideas and content massively outweighs any real or perceived risks.

That doesn’t mean I’ll be sharing my most private thoughts or wearing a SenseCam anytime soon.  This blog is a personal and interactive narrative that I hope will provide some context for the interconnected fragments of pictures, videos, people, conversations, events, and ideas around me.   It’s about claiming and owning a digital voice.  Having that sense of ownership over one’s digital presence is at the foundation of privacy and that’s my reason for this blog.  Maybe privacy isn’t dead after all.

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  • cjohnkim

    To participate or not to participate. Is that the question?

    If it is, I don't believe that participation and privacy need be mutually exclusive. Our privacy in the online world is largely – though not completely – managed by us. We make choices about what we post, how much we post, and to whom we post what we post. In writing this piece, you've made decisions about what to share based on audience, the standards of the blogging medium, the image and persona you wish to present, and countless other factors – some easier to identify than others.

    We all face similar questions when we choose to share with anyone whether in “real” life or in our “digital” lives. We process these choices much more quickly with those we know well because we've established a level of trust and familiarity. Privacy becomes the space that we create together. Today, this process of building trust is easier in “real” life than in our “digital” lives because physical elements create a sense of inviolable space within which our conversation will expire as quickly as our words are uttered. There are problems with this fantasy too, but I'll leave that for another talk and focus on the digital dilemma.

    We are exploring, discovering, and building a new landscape for relationships. Why shouldn't privacy, the ability to selectively choose what we want to share with who we want to share, be a part of our digital lives? How much privacy we have online is entirely up to service providers and consumers. The relevant question to me doesn't seem to be: how do we live without privacy? Instead, I'd like to ask: how much privacy do we want?

    There are problems today with privacy in the online world. Not least of which is that we're still learning what privacy means online. We surrender vast amounts of our personal data to the googles and google wannabes of the world. How much does that matter? We still don't know. I would speculate that in part, we rely on the good will of the services that keep guard over our information to treat us well. In part, the average consumer may be largely unaware or unconcerned about the information that they surrender. And there's likely some silent bargain some of us have made to exchange our information for the free use of great web services.

    But privacy is not simply a privilege for protecting information. Our notion of privacy, who we address and with whom we share, is how we shape what we share. We create language through privacy and relationship. When the abstract 'everyone' is included in our language equation, our vocabulary might change, what we share might change, and we may present a public persona far different from the person we actually are when 'everyone' isn't a part of the equation.

    I'm uncomfortable settling this debate by forfeiting my privacy in order to participate online. I want to fight for a 'digital' life where I don't always have to consider 'everyone,' where you and I can talk shit like you and I do, where it doesn't matter what we say or how we say it because it's just me and you.

    I believe it's possible and necessary for us to consider privacy as we build our digital selves. If not for privacy, then what is the digital self you share?

    Looking forward to more posts like this from you. I enjoyed spending time contemplating this issue.

  • http://erlebacher.org Adam Erlebacher

    You bring up a lot of great points!

    I agree that participation and privacy aren't mutually exclusive and that's why I said “Having that sense of ownership over one’s digital presence is at the foundation of privacy and that’s my reason for this blog.”

    You ask, “how much privacy do we want?”. Based on what people share on Facebook and Twitter, it seems that many don't want a whole lot of it. Maybe that's a result of technology driving people's behavior, but I think most people use technology to fulfill a basic human desire to connect and share with one another. As in “real” life, people make choices about what they choose to share and certainly I am making those same decisions with this blog.

    >>When the abstract 'everyone' is included in our language equation, our vocabulary might change, what we share might change, and we may present a public persona far different from the person we actually are when 'everyone' isn't a part of the equation.

    This may be true for some people but it's not necessarily a bad thing, especially when there are plenty of other ways for people to communicate privately without implicitly addressing “everyone”. Email, IM, FB messages, Twitter DM's and other one-to-one channels fulfill the need to communicate privately and these modes play a critical role alongside more public forms of discussion.

  • http://cjohnkim.com/ John Kim

    To participate or not to participate. Is that the question?

    If it is, I don't believe that participation and privacy need be mutually exclusive. Our privacy in the online world is largely – though not completely – managed by us. We make choices about what we post, how much we post, and to whom we post what we post. In writing this piece, you've made decisions about what to share based on audience, the standards of the blogging medium, the image and persona you wish to present, and countless other factors – some easier to identify than others.

    We all face similar questions when we choose to share with anyone whether in “real” life or in our “digital” lives. We process these choices much more quickly with those we know well because we've established a level of trust and familiarity. Privacy becomes the space that we create together. Today, this process of building trust is easier in “real” life than in our “digital” lives because physical elements create a sense of inviolable space within which our conversation will expire as quickly as our words are uttered. There are problems with this fantasy too, but I'll leave that for another talk and focus on the digital dilemma.

    We are exploring, discovering, and building a new landscape for relationships. Why shouldn't privacy, the ability to selectively choose what we want to share with who we want to share, be a part of our digital lives? How much privacy we have online is entirely up to service providers and consumers. The relevant question to me doesn't seem to be: how do we live without privacy? Instead, I'd like to ask: how much privacy do we want?

    There are problems today with privacy in the online world. Not least of which is that we're still learning what privacy means online. We surrender vast amounts of our personal data to the googles and google wannabes of the world. How much does that matter? We still don't know. I would speculate that in part, we rely on the good will of the services that keep guard over our information to treat us well. In part, the average consumer may be largely unaware or unconcerned about the information that they surrender. And there's likely some silent bargain some of us have made to exchange our information for the free use of great web services.

    But privacy is not simply a privilege for protecting information. Our notion of privacy, who we address and with whom we share, is how we shape what we share. We create language through privacy and relationship. When the abstract 'everyone' is included in our language equation, our vocabulary might change, what we share might change, and we may present a public persona far different from the person we actually are when 'everyone' isn't a part of the equation.

    I'm uncomfortable settling this debate by forfeiting my privacy in order to participate online. I want to fight for a 'digital' life where I don't always have to consider 'everyone,' where you and I can talk shit like you and I do, where it doesn't matter what we say or how we say it because it's just me and you.

    I believe it's possible and necessary for us to consider privacy as we build our digital selves. If not for privacy, then what is the digital self you share?

    Looking forward to more posts like this from you. I enjoyed spending time contemplating this issue.

  • http://erlebacher.org Adam Erlebacher

    You bring up a lot of great points!

    I agree that participation and privacy aren't mutually exclusive and that's why I said “Having that sense of ownership over one’s digital presence is at the foundation of privacy and that’s my reason for this blog.”

    You ask, “how much privacy do we want?”. Based on what people share on Facebook and Twitter, it seems that many don't want a whole lot of it. Maybe that's a result of technology driving people's behavior, but I think most people use technology to fulfill a basic human desire to connect and share with one another. As in “real” life, people make choices about what they choose to share and certainly I am making those same decisions with this blog.

    >>When the abstract 'everyone' is included in our language equation, our vocabulary might change, what we share might change, and we may present a public persona far different from the person we actually are when 'everyone' isn't a part of the equation.

    This may be true for some people but it's not necessarily a bad thing, especially when there are plenty of other ways for people to communicate privately without implicitly addressing “everyone”. Email, IM, FB messages, Twitter DM's and other one-to-one channels fulfill the need to communicate privately and these modes play a critical role alongside more public forms of discussion.