Identity v. Privacy: be in the light or be in the dark

A key topic in Blown to Bits is privacy; what it was (and what it has become), why it’s a concern, how we lost – or “abandoned”(21) it. Abandoning your privacy is an interesting concept; one that was unheard of just two decades ago. If someone in 1979 was waiving around information like their name, address, telephone number, mother’s maiden name or work address or less-than-savory thoughts of their boss’ ways of doing business or details of their drunken exploits last weekend, we would call them careless, or even irresponsible. They would likely deserve whatever consequences came their way. In 2011, we are encouraged to do just that in a much more visible way.

Facebook encourages us to upload and share (which it happily does for us) photos of the entertaining and mundane parts of our lives. Twitter facilitates miniblogging about the minute details of our daily doings. Flickr is a repository for anything. The ubiquitousness of the blog (along with the myth of anonymity of the web) encourages bloggers to take a stand for something… anything that will bring traffic to their blog. All of that information is out there once it’s up; one cannot take it back often. So why do we do it?

Blown to Bits suggests that we give away details and tidbits of personal information for little rewards – little carrots dangling on sticks in front of us. We share habits and information for cheaper groceries, for check-in rewards, and for the “safety” of our funds in our own bank accounts. There is a much more powerful draw to give away little pieces (or gigantic chunks) of ourselves in the wide open internet frontier: identity. It has become evident that the online identity is coming to parallel the real-life identity. In most cases, they are very similar, as we “share” much of ourselves, yet in other cases, they are two different things entirely. Now, if someone is not actively online – creating content, interacting, networking – they seem to be missing something. In the view of many avid network users and self-described experts, those who are not on the www bandwagon are losing their relevance… fast.

In order to build an identity – to get followers, subscribers, friends, klout, or whatever else the trend of the week calls for – one must divulge details and connect with others on those details. You must talk about the events you attend and you must converse with those you attended with. You must share your occupation (paid or otherwise), your preferences, and your focus. One may argue that your online identity could be completely false or made up, but this is increasingly difficult to create an untraceable, web-wide, uniform identity that has no real ties to life outside. In effect, personal information is the golden ticket to creating a sustainable, memorable identity online.

So we’ve established what it takes to build an online identity. Big deal. What’s the real reason we’ve “abandoned” our privacy? It comes down to two primary factors: a general misunderstanding of both the immediate and long-term implications of throwing all privacy to the dogs and the exchange for sunlight, as Blown to Bits calls it. All of this worry and speculation about privacy stems from the fact the we simply don’t know exactly what changes the internet will bring to our lives in the future. We’ve got a bad feeling about it, and we all realize that the internet and our information within it is not just going to go away. The internet will likely become more invisible as development progresses, but certainly not less pervasive. The potential of the web’s pervasiveness of the web has had scifi junkies salivating since 1980, and for good reason.