Wednesday, December 14, 2005

No Privacy? I wonder...

In response to Jonathan Ball's comments to my post “Blogging as Real Disguise”, I'd like to say that what really pumps my nads is the dimensions of what we can privacy, and whether or not blogging is a response to a lack of privacy or a desire for visibility?

Now, I'm not boned up on my McLuhan, but what JB says makes a lot of sense: in a technologically mediated culture the division between private and public blurs and changes. However, I've often thought about the strange irony of the city, and how it seems to create less visibility for the individual, more isolation rather than more connectivity. If the city is a suitable metaphor for the Global Village, the "panoptic" age, if not the proper environment for its dissemination, then in fact the individual loses visible and metaphysical currency as it is rendered invisible by the sheer number of others that share space. In the Global Village, the dominant avenues of exposure are controlled by media companies (TV, radio, movies), such that we are still seduced by the bland offerings of the corporate culture to partake in their offerings en masse and must really work to find the smaller, more individual offerings of others.

So, the individual gets drowned out, and perhaps gets depressed, anxious, isolated, etc. Please see the entire corpus of Radiohead and the Weakerthans for more illustration.

Perhaps the blog is not the evolution of the diary at all, but another beast entirely. If you can imagine the diary form evolving over time within the context of smaller human groupings: families, both immediate and extended; neighbourhoods; villages; towns; social groupings; etc; then it becomes easy to see that, in the past, before the Global Village, the individual was more visible, more obvious, and needed to create a space of privacy. Also, as I suggested in the previous post, the diary is a document that one creates out of a sublimated desire to have it discovered by particular individuals, to blend the private with the public, to simultaneously keep secrets and make available those parts of oneself that one had to keep secret due to the extra-visibility that one enjoys in the smaller tribe with its confining social and cultural expectations and rules. You keep a diary, ironically, because you are aware that others want to know what is written inside it, that for some others your private thoughts and secrets are a desirable commodity. Both in service of this knowledge and as a resistance to it the diary is generated to create a private space.

The prevailing condition for the individual in the Global Village is not a collapse of privacy but rather an excess of privacy. In the city the individual disappears like a white cowboy hat at Stampede. Rather than feeling the gaze of many eyes and the weight of others’ expectations the Global Citizen is gripped by feelings of anonymity, isolation and a personal impotence. Even the panopticon does not bestow notice; the cold eye of technology records all that passes in front of it and does not reserve particular notice for any individuals. One does not give any credence to the idea that a particular security or traffic camera will pick oneself out from the many thousands that pass if front of it every day. Why keep a diary when personal details shouted through a megaphone on a street corner will not necessarily draw a crowd, hungry for more?

The popularity of blogs and other “self-publishing” media is that, paradoxically, they re-establish privacy for the individual. As soon as a blog has a reader, just one, the blog author is recognized by an other who might wonder, “what else has this person not told me? Is he/she really as represented by the blog? Is this person a he or she?” Etc. Like any text, like any utterance in language, a blog testifies strongly to all that is absent in its content and narrative voice. Once a blog is recognized by an other, privacy is created automatically and the idea of a personal and public space for the blogger is reified. To have a private life one must also enjoy a public life.

Secrets make us individuals. You can't keep secrets unless others know you exist.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to commit these or similar thoughts to writing. If any of you readers (anyone? I’ll tell you the colour of my underwear?) can direct me to other writings on this subject I’d appreciate it!


Blogger jason christie said...

Pablo, I think you've made some interesting observations. I'd like to suggest that in respect to a diary, the desire to have someone read it as a drive for secrecy and an invocation of privacy, is one motivation for keeping a diary. Privacy really isn't privacy until someone starts to needle at its edges. In this hypermediated age that privacy becomes free time, privacy is a dirty word in consumerist terms because privacy is time away from a mediated space, it is personal time. Leisure time was the creation of the industrial age. I wonder if private time is the creation of the digital age? I often think of the blog as the 1984 equivalent of a diary. This is what a diary would look like if privacy was ever infringed upon by the state to the point of becoming illegal. That said, I have read some blogs that deal with really personal experiences. I think blogs have a lot of power because sometimes what a person would write in a diary and keep secret is an event that feels shameful, or something that doesn't have a socially acceptable outlet (i.e. mental illness, fears, etc...). Publishing of such entries and making them available to others means that others can benefit from the social exposure of things that are wrongfully kept out of polite social representation. So in a way, a person dealing with any number of situations can find a community beyond the borders of immediate personal tactile experience and access the warm potential of said community. I agree, it is a strange place to occupy in that it can be highly personal in its connection to a virtual host of people and also extremely isolating because of the technologically mediated interface of the computer screen, keyboard, etc. What we are dealing with here is the early augmentation of our minds through a clumsy melding of technology and biology. Once the keyboard disappears into our body, the monitor into our head, then we'll be the stuff that myths were made from in the past. Psychic phenomena will be commonplace. Telepathic communication a reality. Scary, yes. But is it really so different than what we are doing right now? Blogs are an early form of this conversation. Less instantaneous, clumsy, but a presursor to a time when we'll only have to think in order to communicate with one another. We'll have answering programs in our heads we can switch on with a gesture or though or button and not have to worry about interruptions. Of course, the view I'm outlining is utopic but then again it is also fantastic. I am aware that it is an idealization free from the nasty bits of our ideological climate: shoddy quality in the interest of profit, profiteering, abuse of customers for the benefit of the shareholders and etc will inevitably ruin any attempt to better ourselves.

2:49 p.m.  

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