Bob Blakley has a very thought provoking piece, “Gartner Gets Privacy Dead Wrong.” I really, really like a lot of what he has to say about the technical frame versus the social frame. It’s a very useful perspective, and I went back and forth for a while with titles for my post (The runner up was “Fast, Cheap and out of Bob’s Control.”)
I think, however, that my frame for a response will be Alvin Toeffler’s excellent analysis of Future Shock. In it, he describes our lives as most people in the professional class move more and more often for work. How the traditional means of social cohesion — church, scouts, the PTA, bridge clubs, the local watering hole — all down as we expect to be gone in just a few years. How we have friends we see annually at a conference or in airports. He explained that ongoing acceleration and the removal of support structures would lead to isolation, alienation and an ongoing and increasing state of future shock.
A great many Americans on the coasts live in many micro-societies. We have our professional groups and sub-groups. We have hobbies. We may have college buddies in the same areas as we are. We pick a fat demogauge to listen to: Rush Limbaugh or Michael Moore as suits our fancy. But our social spaces are massively fragmented. And so when Bob says:
But he’s right that we’d better behave. When we see someone else’s private information, we’d better avert our gaze. We’d better not gossip about it. We’d better be sociable. Because otherwise we won’t need the telescreen – we’ll already have each other. And we’ll get the society we deserve.
We no longer have a society, or the society. We have teabaggers screaming at Obamaphiles. We have neighbors suing neighbors. We call the cops rather than walking next door. We run background checks on our scoutmasters, all because we no longer have a society which links us tightly enough that we can avoid these things.
And amidst all of this which society will create and drive the social norms for privacy? Will it be the one that lets cops beat protesters at the G20? The one that convinced Bob to join Facebook? The one that leads me to tweet?
In a world where some people say “I’ve got nothing to hide” and others pay for post office boxes, I don’t know how we can settle on a single societal norm. And in a world in which cheesy-looking web sites get more personal data — no really, listen to Alessandro Acquisti, or read the summary of “Online Data Present a Privacy Minefield” on All Things Considered. In a world in which cheesy-looking web sites get more data, I’m not sure the social frame will save us.