The big change in privacy in my view has already happened with the flow of socially coordinating activity online.  It was actually at the moment where we stopped being virtual, when the Internet stopped being a “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” place and started just being a tool for coordinating a regular life.  

The internet is no longer an alternative to real life, it’s a tool for arranging it.  And at that moment, we lost something that we used to call personal life.  

Personal life was, you could walk down the street, you could be out in the park, you could be at a party.  You were in public, but you were unobserved.  So, you could say things to your friends, and if someone overheard you, you wouldn’t react as if you had a right to privacy while walking down Fifth Avenue, but you would assume, quite reasonably that you weren’t under any kind of surveillance.  And that’s gone.

What the network does is it collapses that whole spectrum of personal life into a single dichotomy, private or public.  And you have to stand on one side of that line or the other.  So, right away, that’s something we’re not used to and we’re not good at.  I mean, prior to Facebook, Greta Garbo was the only person any of us had every heard of who had anything that could be called privacy preferences. 

We kind of knew when to say something in relative confidence and you knew when you could say something on the street corner, and we knew when to shout things from the rooftops.  But there was a spectrum there, and now there’s not.  There’s this dividing line, public or private.  

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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