Privacy gripes lie with law, social norms, not tech, Jeff Jarvis tells Big Head Baltimore

October 19, 2011

Online sharing isn’t changing human nature, it’s merely enabling it.

In a livecast chat about his new book on the virtues of digital publics, journalist Jeff Jarvis paraphrased Mark Zuckerberg to frame a fundamental point: It’s not the technology, stupid.

When privacy watchdogs say technology goes too far, the City University of New York professor told participants in the Greater Baltimore Technology Council‘s first monthly Big Head Baltimore talk, the real problem is that our legal system or social norms have come up short.

Public-parts

Greater-baltimore-tech-council

Take the digitization of health records. In “Public Parts,” Jarvis, who has blogged — in intimate detail — his battle with prostate cancer, envisions a health care system where every page of everyone’s record is publicly shared.

The knowledge that could be gleaned from such a large, accessible dataset would save billions of dollars and potentially millions of lives. Who wouldn’t want that? (The principle is being applied on a much smaller scale and involving information about pharmaceuticals instead of people in effort to improve drug manufacturing.)

But fears about how insurers, employers and peers might treat us if they knew our full medical past and prognosis quickly flip the equation. Who would want that? 

Legitimate concerns, Jarvis says, but don’t make technology the scapegoat. If someone denies you coverage or fires you because of something they saw in your file, the problem is that the law let them. If you’re ostracized because of your condition, the problem is the stigma society attaches to illness — something, incidentally, that sharing can help overcome.

Jarvis — who qualified that he does not expect open health care records or many of the other ideas presented in his book, such as The Radically Public Company (Chapter 10), to become reality —  is the first to admit that he approaches technological change from a utopian point of view. If we’re to realize the full benefits of interactive tools, he argues, we must first conceive them.

It’s difficult to disagree. If nothing else, like perfect competition in economics, perfect sharing, even if it never naturally occurs, is still instructive to study.

As tweets streamed by on audience members’ iPhones and on a screen off-camera in Jarvis’ office, the author offered a favorite rejoinder: There’s no such thing as over-sharing, just over-listening. Don’t like it? The unfriend or unfollow button is just a click away.

It is your choice. Your choice to share. Your choice to listen. Isn’t it? Well, to take the dystopian point of view, increasingly not.

Whether it’s peer pressure all but forcing us to share, an algorithm telling us what to listen to (Jarvis addressed this) or an unseen network of interconnected devices doing both, we’re losing some of our curational agency. Take that away, and is what we hear as meaningful? Is what we say even properly called sharing?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: