[A]uthor and media blogger Jeff Jarvis told a room full of corporate and government privacy advocates something many of them probably didn’t want to hear: that society needs more protection for what he calls “publicness,” and less focus on locking down our personal information or prosecuting companies that use that data. “Privacy has plenty of advocates already,” Jarvis said. “It is potentially over-protected, but in any case it is well protected. But publicness also needs its advocates.” Despite stumbles by both Facebook and Google when it comes to privacy, said Jarvis, the benefits of sharing information about ourselves through social media are plentiful and obvious — including the ability to organize popular revolutions like the one that just occurred in Egypt. …
Jarvis made a point of saying in his talk that privacy “is not binary, not on or off — it’s a continuum,” and that different societies and individuals come down at different points along that continuum. Scandinavians publish the salaries of all their citizens publicly, he said, something other people might recoil at. And in the United States, photos of people who are accused of crimes are published without any concern for their privacy, unlike some other countries. “I am not a proponent of 100-percent openness,” Jarvis said. “For example, I would like to point out that I am wearing clothing. [But] there are benefits to being public, and we need to acknowledge those at the same time as we talk about what could go wrong — we can’t always focus on what might go wrong.”
Among the benefits of being public, according to Jarvis, are that relationships and connections are formed, which is the fundamental purpose and a large part of the value created by Facebook and other social networks. “It also enables collaboration, and builds trust,” Jarvis said. And in places like Egypt, such tools have created what the author called “an incredible wave of publicness — and that deserves protection. Yes, privacy deserves protection, but by God so do the tools of publicness.”
Publicness is an emblem of epochal change. It is profoundly disruptive. Publicness threatens institutions whose power was invested in the control of information and audiences. That’s why we hear the incumbents protest this change and warn of its dangers. Publicness is a sign of our empowerment at their expense. Dictators and politicians, media moguls and marketers try to tell us what to think and say. But now, in a truly public society, they must listen to what we say. So if they are to survive and prosper, companies, governments, and institutions must learn to deal with us at eye-level, with respect for us as individuals and respect for the power we can now wield as groups—as publics. Many will not survive and will be replaced by entrepreneurs and insurgents, both good and bad.
The progression toward a more public society is apparent and inevitable; resistance is futile. But the form our new society will take is by no means predestined. We are at a critical moment with many choices. We who hold the tools of publicness hold keys to the future. We must decide how to use them. Rather than baying at the moon and cursing the tide, we would be wise to find opportunity and advantage, to decide the kind of future we want to build. . . . Now is the moment and we are the people to give shape to our next society. In each of our roles as individuals, parents, employees, employers, citizens, officials, and neighbors, each of us is deciding how private to be (safe, protective, closed, sometimes solitary, often anonymous) and how public (open, collaborative, collective, and vulnerable).