Off the record

I have been intrigued by Barry’s post and the responses that have ensued, relating to his dismay at having informal comments blogged without his consent.

My first reaction (and I would be curious if others shared this) was to ensure that I was not the culprit by doing a bit of googling. I don’t think I am the… is “collaborator” the appropriate term ?… but the search did turn up a photograph of Barry on my blog, identified by name:

http://alex.halavais.net/news/index.php?p=665

There is some irony that the photograph is from a workshop in Toronto on what Steve Mann has been calling “sousveillance.” I find this use of imaging and other recording materials by citizens to be less liberating than he might find them. Yes, blogging, very broadly defined, has the potential of making our social lives far more transparent. I tend to think of this in a Brinian sense: the lesser of two evils, and seemingly inevitable. I have no doubt that I blog in the service of the secret and not-so-secret police of many nations. I also blog in the service of the secret and not-so-secret revolutionaries among us. And, heck, I’m also blogging for terrorism. The surveillance I engage in is open to all, and while more daylight can lead to sunburns, I think the benefits outweigh the potential harm.

The kind of intrusions Barry is talking about are likely to lead to a rethinking of what constitutes personal privacy. It’s worth remembering that the legal history of privacy in the US stems from precisely the sort of complaint made here. That is, people were sneaking cameras into private parties and publishing private conversations in public newspapers. From a US-centric perspective, you might go so far as to argue the combination of camera and penny-press invented the idea of privacy as we generally think about it now. I suspect that the cameraphone and blog will cause a similar shift.

I personally do what I can to guess at whether someone’s comments are “unbloggable.” I think, like many, I follow a golden rule of blogging (publicize not lest thee be publicized), with an added safety buffer to account for my utter lack of shame. But an ethics of blogging will only take us so far. The present state of social access to archived life experience–and for me, cameraphones and other recording devices are far more intrusive than relayed personal narrative–have already changed how a large part of society interacts and expects to interact, as danah has noted above. I think the important question now is understanding how these boundaries are conceived within various groups; that is, making the invisible assumptions of bloggers of varying stripes more visible.

I have a feeling that the academic setting adds a slight twist. While I might otherwise blog (or mention in a talk, etc.) an idea that I heard from “some dude” at a dinner, it strikes me that as scholars we have a special obligation to cite ideas that we may have gathered from others, even when the source of such observations are not found in a journal article. We have a particular difficulty when that obligation potentially interferes with observing perceived social propriety.

(And, in case it needs to be said, I’m blogging this.)

[This is cc’d from a posting to the AIR-L list.]

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One Comment

  1. Posted 9/6/2005 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Well, there’s always this potential problem, isn’t there? Blogging just makes the lack of social politeness obvious. Posting a photo of something in a public event is one thing, or commenting on what people say in public spaces. Classroom comments are more problematic. But personal comments… I hope I never post references to them without permission. Barry’s a public figure, almost, and it is almost possible to say that he, like other public figures get any privacy any more. Poor barry. I hope that that never happens to me.

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