The goal of privacy is not to protect some stable self from erosion but to create boundaries where this self can emerge, mutate, and stabilize.
Digital technology has greatly expanded the windows and doors in our own little rooms for self-experimentation — but we are now at a point where these rooms are on the verge of turning into glass houses. Historian of science Peter Galison and legal scholar Martha Minow even warn of a technologically and legally driven “downward spiral” that “could affect the very sense of self people have — the sense of room for self-expression and experimentation, the sense of dignity and composure, the sense of ease and relief from public presentation.”
— Morozov, Evgeny (2013-03-05).To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism (p. 347). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.
It’s true. I definitely no longer feel the freedom to express myself fully on this blog. Naturally, many of my friends (and Misty, my wife) would prefer I write about personal things, as I did in my previous Web journal from ’96 to 2006-ish.
Things have changed. Self-censorship is the order of the day. Free expression can be squelched when a single jesting blog post from years ago can now sabotage one’s entire future career. There’s little room for growth. Our profiles are indeed locked down — especially when viewed one-dimensionally through a computer screen.
Instead of working through life’s conundrums, garnering feedback, creating intimate (not in the physical sense, necessarily) relationships, changing my mind, revisiting and revising. Displaying my reflexivity, if you will.
That’s over. One must blog now on a subject or two. Focus. Publish fully logical (unless you’re an ideologue), reasonable, completely formed argument before hitting publish — no room for holes or mistakes. Become a thought leader. No effort at helpful improvement. Or become a marcom content farm, churning out largely pointless content to promote one’s abilities. A content cow in one’s own small pasture, hoping and praying for a farmer.
Granted, it generally doesn’t matter when my piss-ant blog post shows up in someone’s Google Alert of their own name. But it does matter when someone does a cursory search for my name.
The larger problem is that one can’t disconnect. One can’t hide everything, for these are opportunities brought by Twitter that are different from other social sites. I would argue one with an open (that is, non-password-protected) account — is able to access more spheres of influence than on Facebook, Pinterest, et cetera. But one’s voice cannot even enter that milieu without an open account. Lurking isn’t the same as engaging.
What do we do about this? It seems foolish to believe we could simply disconnect, as I said above.
Ultimately, it warps what I, at least, write and share here now. Personal life, flippant jokes, probably even some writing samples. These are not always safe even. Others make a career out of life-blogging — and seem to do well enough at it. But I have a career and, probably, more important at this moment, I need a job now and need employers to have a decent one-dimensional view of me. I have possible – needed! – employment to worry about.
My Facebook is locked down (or I think it is), though I’m certain my posts are read by “friends” who can hurt and help my career. My Twitter has, at various times, been locked down. But I can’t contribute to the conversation (or even advertise this blog post) beyond my friends if my stream is password-protected. LinkedIn, of course, is LinkedIn — which I use as a paper resume as well because it shows the constant dynamism and growth of my skills and experiences. There are drawbacks and trade-offs in all these decisions (and those not mentioned).
I could lock up this blog. Password-protect it. But then I wouldn’t write any. I could as easily leave this post on the yellow legal pad on which I’m composing it if it wasn’t meant for an audience — an envisioned audience, anyway.
I know I wrote better and more often when I wrote about myself — and let’s not kid ourselves, being married brings a different perspective on what’s appropriate for public consumption. That writing bled into an even better ability to write academically and professionally. That’s not to say I don’t write well enough to charge a decent rate for my services, when I have clients or jobs. In fact, I, as Tim Conger at Bravarro would put it, “over-service” my clients.
Important things in life I once shared on various platforms, and, especially, my various Web journals/blogs on various platforms can no longer be publicly shared. Maybe they were never meant to be shared (though at this point interested data scientists would probably profile each of us, with or without a blog, by our digital footprints faster than an episode of Criminal Minds without commercials). But it was possible once. I wasn’t frightened as much about what I revealed (aside from the one time I was threatened with physical harm and briefly pulled down a post). I miss that freedom, that privacy. Or that naiveté, maybe.
Given my field, abandoning these outlets merely undermines my credibility. But so can what I post. Careful, William. I even feel self-conscious about posting something with awkward grammar or typos, or pieces written in haste or short posts or anything that could just as easily be shared through Facebook (where I worry about the same things, but it’s not considered as “professional” as a blog should be now).
I suppose when and if I publish more personal writing, you’ll just have to buy it in (probably self-published) paperback.