Joho the Blog » [berkman] Jeff Jarvis on Publicness

[berkman] Jeff Jarvis on Publicness

Jeff Jarvis is giving a lunch time talk about his new book, Public Parts. He says he’s interested in preserving the Net as an open space. Privacy and publicness depend on each other. Privacy needs protection, he says, but we are becoming so over-protective that we are in danger of losing the benefits of publicness. (He apologizes for the term “publicness” but did not want to use the marketing term “publicity.”)

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

He begins with a history of privacy. In 1890, Brandeis wrote an article about privacy, in response to the rise of Kodak cameras. The NYT wrote about “fiendish Kodakers lying in wait.” Teddy Roosevelt banned photo-taking in public parks. Technology seems often to raise privacy concerns. After Gutenberg some authors did not want their name associated with works. Some say that privacy arose in Britain as a result of the creation of the back stairs. As tech advances, we need to find new norms. Instead, we tend to legislate to try to maintain the status quo.

Now for publicness, he begins by referring to Habermas: the public sphere arose in the 18th C in coffee houses and salon as a counterweight to the power of governments. But, Canadian researchers began The Making Publics Project that concluded that people had the tools for making publics before the 18th C. E.g., printed music, art, etc. all enabled the creation of publics. When a portrait of a Dutch gentleman was shown in Venice, if a Dutch man showed up, he looked like “them,” which helped define the Venetians as “us” (for example).

Mass media made us into a mass. It pretended to speak for us. Online, though, we can each make a public. E.g., Occupy Wall Street, and before that Arab Spring. He recounts tweeting angrily, and after a few glasses of wine, “Fuck you Washington! It’s our money.” Someone suggested to him that there were these new things called “hashtags,” and that this one should be #FUwashington. 110,000 tweets later, the hashtag had become a platform. “People viewed in this empty vessel what they wanted to.” Indeed, the first recorded use of #occupywallstreet was in a tweet that consisted of: “#fuwashington #occupywallstreet.” [Note: It might be #OWS.] Now the public is a network.

We’re going through a huge transition, he says. He refers to the Gutenberg Parenthesis. Before Gutenberg, knowledge was passed around, person to person. It was meant to honor and preserve ancient knowledge. After Gutenberg, knowledge became linear. There are beginnings and ends and boxes around things. It’s about product. There’s a clear sense of ownership. It honors current knowledge and its authors. Then you get to the other side of the parenthesis, and there are similarities. More passing it around, more remixing, less sense of ownership. The knowledge we revere starts to become the network itself. Our cognition of the world changes. The CTO of the Veterans Admin calls the Internet the Eighth Continent. “I used to think of the Internet as a medium,” but now he thinks of it more as a place, although there are problems with the place metaphor. (“All metaphors are wrong,” interjects Doc Searls. “That’s why they work.”) It was a hard transition into the parenthesis, and it’ll be hard coming out of it. It took 50 years after Gutenberg for books to come into their own, and 100 years to recognize the impact of books. We’re still looking at the Net using our the past as our analog.

To talk about publicness, Jeff had to go through “the gauntlet of privacy.” He looked for a good definition of privacy. Control is part of it, but “privacy” is an empty vessel itself. “I came to believe that privacy should be seen as an ethic.” It’s about the responsibility for making ethical decisions about sharing it. People and companies have different responsibilities here, of course. “There should be an ethic that people should be able to know who has access to their information. And it should be portable.” He gives a shout out to Doc Searls’ projectVRM.

If privacy is an ethic of knowing, publicness is an ethic of sharing. Not everything should be shared, of course, but there’s a generosity of sharing that should have us thinking about how sharing can benefit us. “I shared info about my prostate cancer on line, which means I was sharing information about my non-functioning penis. Why would I do that?” He has friends who learned of this because he was public, and some who shared with them great information about what he was about to go through. One guy started out under a pseudonym but then started using his real name. A woman told her story about how her husband died needlessly. Jeff refers to Xeni Jardin‘s posting of her mammogram and how this will likely save some lives. [Xeni, we are all thinking about you! And love you!]

“I am not utopian,” Jeff says, “because I’m not predicting a better world.” But we should be imagining the best that can happen, as well as the worst. There are many benefits to publicness. Bringing trust. Improving relationships. It enables collaboration. It disarms the notion of the stranger. It disarms stigmas: coming outside the closet disarms the old stigma (although, Jeff adds, no one should be forced out of a closet). Gov’t is too often secret by default, and that should be switched; the same is not true for individuals where the default should always be a choice. We should make it clear that the Internet is a shitty place to put secrets. Facebook has made mistakes about privacy, but 800M have joined because they want to share. Zuckerberg believes he is not changing but enabling human nature. By nature we want to share.

Jeff got accused by someone of “over-sharing” which he finds an odd phrase. It means “shut up.” The guy does not have to follow Jeff or read his blog. “I wasn’t over-sharing. He was over-listening.”

Companies should share more because it opens up the ability to collaborate. In What Would Google Do? Jeff speculated about a company that might design cars collaboratively. Many scoffed. But Local Motors is now doing it.

When Google pulled out of China, they did the right thing, he says. But can we expect companies to protect the Internet? Nah. Google did a devil’s deal with Verizon. Gov’t also can’t protect the Net. Jeff went to the E-G8 where he asked Sarkozy to take a Hippocratic Oath “to first do no harm.” Sarkozy replied that it’s not harm to protect your children. There are unintended consequences, e.g., danah boyd’s study of the consequence of COPPA. More than half of the 12 yr olds had Facebook pages, most of which had been created with the help of parents, violating the terms of use. Thus, COPPA is requiring families to lie. COPPA has resulted in young people being the worst served segment on the Net because it’s too risky to build a kid site. We need to protect our children, but we also have to protect the Net.

So, who has to protect the Net? We do. The people of the Net. Jeff went back to the Sullivan Principles (while noting that he’s not equating YouTube censorship with Apartheid) about corporate responsibility when dealing with South Africa. We need a discussion of such principles for doing business on the Net. The discussion will never end, he says, but it gives us something to point at. His own principles, he says, are wrong, but they are: 1. You have a right to connect. (Not that you have a right to demand a connection, but you can’t be disconnected.) 2. Privacy as an ethic of knowing and publicness as an ethic of sharing. 3. What’s public is a public good. The Germans allow citizens to demand Google pixelate Street View, resulting in a degradation of a useful tool. Google is taking pictures of public places in public views. Illinois and MA do not allow you to audio record police officers. Reducing what’s public reduces the value of the public. What are the principles at work here? 4. Institution’s info should become public by default. 5. Net neutrality. 6. The Net must remain open and distributed. “The fact that no one has sovereignity is what makes the Net the Net.”

“I am not a technodeterminist,” he says. “We are a point of choice. We need to maintain our choices. If we don’t protect them, companies and well-meaning and ill-meaning companies will take away those choices.” He points to Berkman as a leading institute for this. “I don’t blame Sarkozy for holding the event. I blame us for not holding our own event, the WE-G8, because it is our Internet.”

Jeff now does The Oprah.

Q: How about Google Plus requiring real names?
A: Anonymity has its place on line. So do pseudonyms. They protect the vulnerable. But I understand that real names improves he discourse. I get the motivation, but they screwed it up. They were far too literal in what someone’s identity is. I think Google knows this now. They’re struggling with a principle and a system. I do understand trying to avoid having the place overrun by fake identities and spam.

Q: German Street View is really about scale. It’s one thing for someone to take a picture of your house. It’s another for Google to send a car to drive down every street and post the pictures for the world. For some people it crosses the ethics of privacy. Why isn’t that a valid choice?
A: But it’s a public view. If you own the building, do you own the view of it? But you’re right about scale. But we need to protect the principle that what is public is the public good.

Q: We have a vacation rental. Any bad guy can use Street View to see if it’s worth robbing.
A: Riverhead LI used Google Earth to look for pools in backyards that had no permits. People were in an uproar. But it could also save children’s lives.

Q: [me] Norms are not the same as ethics. Can you talk about the difference? To what extent should privacy as an ethic of knowing be a norm? Etc.
A: Privacy as an ethic should inform the norms. I’ve been talking about my desire for a return of the busy signal… [missed a bit of this.]

Q: What about the ethics of having info shared for you? As people post photos of each other, enormous amounts of info will be shared…
A: We’re trying to adjust to this as a society. Currently, FB tells me if I’m tagged in a photo and lets me say no. It’s wrong if someone tricks you out of info, or violates a presumed confidence. Tyler Clemente who committed suicide after a picture of him was posted…the failure was human, not the technology’s.
A: Why don’t we share all of our health? We’d get more support. We’d have more data that might help. But health insurance would misuse it. Job applicants being disqualified? We could regulate against this. The real reason is stigma. “In this day and age, for anyone to be ashamed of sickness is pathetic.” The fact that we can use illness against people says more about our society.
A: Part of your message is that publicness is our best weapon against stigma.

Q: [espen andersen, who also blogged this talk] In Norway the gov’t publishes how much money people make. That arose when you had to go down to City Hall to get the info. Now there are FB mashups. So what about info that’s used for unintended purposes? And how about the Data Storage Directive that in Europe requires the storage of data “just in case.”
A: Helen Nissenbaum says the key to privacy is context. But it’s hard to know what the context is in many cases. Apparently Norway is rethinking its policy. But there was a cultural benefit that it’d be a shame to lose. Google threatened to pull Gmail out of Germany because of the data storage requirements. Why in the US does email have less protection than mail.
Q: I’m a member of the group suing the Norwegian govt on the grounds that that law is unconstitituional. But no one ever sets targets.

Q: Public by default, private by necessity: Yes. Where’s the low-hanging fruit for universities?
A: Lessig reminds us that if we only use govt data to get the bastards, govt will see openness as an enemy. We need also to be showing the positive benefit of open data. Universities will be in the next wave of disruption of the Net. Around the world, how many instructors write a lecture about capillary action, and how many of them are crap? The fact that you have Open Course lets you find the best lectures in the world. You can find and reward the best. Local education becomes more like tutoring. Why should students and teachers be stuck with one another? I’m reading DIY U and it’s wonderful. It’ll change because of the economics of education.

A: [I had trouble hearing this long question. He recommended going back to Irving Goffman, and pointed out that Net publicness is different if you're famous.]
A: You’re talking about what a public is. We have thought that the public mean everyone. But now we can create limited publics around things. (Jeff points to a problem with circles in G+ : People think they create private spheres, but they don’t.) FB confused a public with the public; when it changed the defaults, people thought they were talking to a public but were in fact talking to the public.

Q: [me] Norms of privacy help define publics. Are you arguing for a single norm? Why not? [this was my question and I actually asked it much worse than this.]
A: I’m arguing for choice.
Q: Are Americans wrong for being modest in saunas?
A: Nope. [I've done a terrible job of capturing this.]

5 Responses to “[berkman] Jeff Jarvis on Publicness”

  1. [...] (David Winer has a much better writeup.) [...]

  2. [...] (David Weinberger has a much better writeup.) [...]

  3. [...] author of What Would Google Do?, he lives in the New York area. LinksBuzzmachineJeff on TwitterDavid Weinberger liveblogged the talkPhoto credit: John [...]

  4. “But it’s a public view. If you own the building, do you own the view of it? But you’re right about scale. But we need to protect the principle that what is public is the public good.”

    Let’s take this idea one step further. Let’s say that you’re taking a stroll through the park and a stranger follows you, taking your picture all the time. You ask the stranger to cease and desist. What if he says no? Would you be willing to shrug and move on? Remember, just as you have no choice but to put yourself in public view to go about getting on with your daily life (unless you are willing to wear a Burkah or are as rich as Howard Hughes), you have no choice but to put your house in public view unless you live in a condo or a gated community.

  5. […] Dave Weinberger liveblogging Jeff Jarvis at the Berkman Center: We’re going through a huge transition, he says. He refers to the Gutenberg Parenthesis. Before […]

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