Walking a line of publicity and privacy. Where do you stand?

Public or private. Tell the world, tell a few, tell no one. This is one aspect of social media that I constantly struggle with in my life. This evening Raul, Guacira Naves, and I were chatting about this very topic this evening at Blenz. The three of us all have our own stories of the good and bad of public disclosure. I think it’s safe to say the three of us agree that there are no easy answers. By happenstance when I got home what did I find in my feed reader but this post on the whole public-priuvate debate:

Strangely, some people seem rather keen to blame technology for their own increasingly public behavior. There are those who, when confronted with their own public proclamations of their everyday lives, say it was the technology that made them do it. It was there, everyone was doing it, and, no, no, they had no idea that everyone would see it.
Though it’s entirely believable that Facebook and Twitter are full of touchingly heartless engineers who would dearly love for everyone to live as publicly as possible so that they can sell their information to as many advertisers as possible, there might be a little more to it than that.
Haven’t Facebook and Twitter merely lucked into people’s overwhelming desire for, well, fame? Once broadcast media– you know the old-fashioned stuff like radio and TV– proved that fame was a powerful, far-reaching and tangentially tangible currency, we all thought it might be nice to taste a piece of it.
How many of your Facebook friends seem to want their updates to be more interesting, more involving and more amusing those of anyone else in their group? How many of your Twitter community want to prove that they are reading something more important, more current, more intellectual than anyone else?

[From Facebook, Twitter: How we chose to live in public | Technically Incorrect - CNET News]

Do we publicize for fame or support? Are we trying to get more and more attention or just have our say? Recently I, again, had my own reminder of how I’ve chosen to live my life in public online, but my family hasn’t. How I can derive solace and support from my friends, but at what cost to others?

There are times I honestly come within inches of either just deleting my Twitter account or locking it down to private only. Both of which are over-reactions of course, but this feeling of just screaming “enough!” and pulling back from it all comes from wanting to let some thoughts and feelings out but having to hold them back. It’s that crushing reality that you just can’t be 100% open online without some nasty ramifications. Most of us self censor online, it’s a reality. I think it’s a reality because we don’t have the same granular control online as we do in real life.

I can have a few friends over and talk about things I wouldn’t talk about in public. It’s not as easy to have a private discussion online. I know there are ways. I can have a private blog. I can have a private twitter account and invite certain people to it. Those, however create yet another channel that I have to maintain. What if Twitter offered something like a tweet to group feature. You could make a tweet semi-private. It appears in your public timeline, but only to a select few people. My followers don’t have to change anything, all I have to change is making sure I check off something like [private group] when I send it.

Or maybe the real lesson is that we need to ensure we have strong real-world communities to rely on. People you can call on in the wee hours of the morning when you’re having a dark night of the soul. People who will accept a coffee or beer invite when you just need a shoulder and an ear.

Maybe the public-private question is more of a challenge for finding balance in how we use technology now in our daily lives. Lots of questions and few answers, well except I need to have coffee with Raul and Guacira more often.

Comments

  1. says

    You raise some good issues which I too have had to face. In my line of work (arts/entertainment) there is an expectation of a certain amount of transparency to your personal life with which I have not always been comfortable. My wife and I have discussed and our former “iron curtain” between the two is more and more tested by both technology and the raised expectations that tech creates.

    What if we just let this ride for awhile and let “fame” as a goal play itself out? In the past “fame” was a scare resource, available only to the few that could get copy in the LA Times or their faces on the big screen. Everybody wanted some.

    Now, we’ve gone well past Warhol’s “15 mins of fame” to a point where 160 characters can make you famous. If this generalization is correct, then fame will soon have zero worth, as everyone can have it. With zero worth, will come dimishing presssures for transparency, etc.

    One can only hope that the pendulum will swing past the “look at me!” portion of the broadening of the public sector fo our lives and settle into a new world where openness is valued, but intimacy (distinct from privacy) is respected.

    Love your idea of a group post however, or a segmentation approach to tweeting. Would be a valuable asset I think an application could deliver. Hootsuite? Tweetdeck? You listening?

    • says

      Thanks Christopher. It’s an interesting place we’ve put ourselves. We blurt out in public tons and tons of stuff and then are surprised when someone we don’t want to read it, reads it.

      First we need Twitter to implement the feature, then the apps can support it. I’d even pay for that feature!

  2. says

    You raise some good issues which I too have had to face. In my line of work (arts/entertainment) there is an expectation of a certain amount of transparency to your personal life with which I have not always been comfortable. My wife and I have discussed and our former “iron curtain” between the two is more and more tested by both technology and the raised expectations that tech creates.

    What if we just let this ride for awhile and let “fame” as a goal play itself out? In the past “fame” was a scare resource, available only to the few that could get copy in the LA Times or their faces on the big screen. Everybody wanted some.

    Now, we’ve gone well past Warhol’s “15 mins of fame” to a point where 160 characters can make you famous. If this generalization is correct, then fame will soon have zero worth, as everyone can have it. With zero worth, will come dimishing presssures for transparency, etc.

    One can only hope that the pendulum will swing past the “look at me!” portion of the broadening of the public sector fo our lives and settle into a new world where openness is valued, but intimacy (distinct from privacy) is respected.

    Love your idea of a group post however, or a segmentation approach to tweeting. Would be a valuable asset I think an application could deliver. Hootsuite? Tweetdeck? You listening?

    • says

      Thanks Christopher. It’s an interesting place we’ve put ourselves. We blurt out in public tons and tons of stuff and then are surprised when someone we don’t want to read it, reads it.

      First we need Twitter to implement the feature, then the apps can support it. I’d even pay for that feature!

  3. says

    Interesting piece, Tris. Can you share a bit more about how you are more public and open than the rest of your family and what ramifications that has? I am definitely in the same boat: my kids think Twitter’s fun, along with FourSquare, but don’t really get it. But then again, I’m not sure I do either. :-)

    • says

      Hey Dave … well that’s kind of the thing because by talking about the ramifications, brings in discussion that violates the privacy of others (not to be talked about). Let’s say a lot of the little joys I have as a proud parent I can’t share with the world. Nor can I share the frustrations or sorrows. Because, of course, everything can be found and read.

  4. says

    Interesting piece, Tris. Can you share a bit more about how you are more public and open than the rest of your family and what ramifications that has? I am definitely in the same boat: my kids think Twitter’s fun, along with FourSquare, but don’t really get it. But then again, I’m not sure I do either. :-)

    • says

      Hey Dave … well that’s kind of the thing because by talking about the ramifications, brings in discussion that violates the privacy of others (not to be talked about). Let’s say a lot of the little joys I have as a proud parent I can’t share with the world. Nor can I share the frustrations or sorrows. Because, of course, everything can be found and read.

  5. Anonymous says

    It would be fair to say that my twenty something *kids* were shocked that I would enter this public space, and choose to meet in person people I met first online through Twitter.

    Yet, over this past year, it has been the most nourishing aspect of going public online. I appreciate the ever deepening real time face to face relationships we are building in Victoria through Social Media Club, #victoriatweetup and more informal get togethers.

    As for self-censoring, I monitor carefully what I put online. My adult children and I already have very public lives due to the nature of our work and the length of time we have lived in this community.

    You’re right Tris, being able to share with offline friends helps when it might not be prudent to share some information online.

    I’m sure we will continue to discuss this issue. Thanks for posting.

    • says

      It is one of those new, strange aspects of our social dynamic isn’t it…”meeting” people online and being friends then “meeting” them in real life some time much later.
      If nothing else I think it has helped all of us expand our concept of friendship.
      And would that have happened such a large scale if people didn’t put so much of themselves online? That’s a good question for another post!

  6. says

    It would be fair to say that my twenty something *kids* were shocked that I would enter this public space, and choose to meet in person people I met first online through Twitter.

    Yet, over this past year, it has been the most nourishing aspect of going public online. I appreciate the ever deepening real time face to face relationships we are building in Victoria through Social Media Club, #victoriatweetup and more informal get togethers.

    As for self-censoring, I monitor carefully what I put online. My adult children and I already have very public lives due to the nature of our work and the length of time we have lived in this community.

    You’re right Tris, being able to share with offline friends helps when it might not be prudent to share some information online.

    I’m sure we will continue to discuss this issue. Thanks for posting.

    • says

      It is one of those new, strange aspects of our social dynamic isn’t it…”meeting” people online and being friends then “meeting” them in real life some time much later.
      If nothing else I think it has helped all of us expand our concept of friendship.
      And would that have happened such a large scale if people didn’t put so much of themselves online? That’s a good question for another post!

  7. says

    Hi Tris,

    Great hanging out earlier tonight. Very nice post.

    A couple of points come to mind, brought on by our talk and by your post. They might not necessarily be a response to what you’ve written, but I think they are nevertheless relevant:

    - We need to live with strength in our convictions. As we increasingly use online technology to communicate and interact with others, we need to become aware that whatever is shared online can be traced, and can be used against us (or for us). That thought, in turn re-emphasizes my belief – that there’s no longer a divide between our offline and online lives. So, I figure: if I’m willing to stand for my decisions, then if someone (whose opinion I don’t particularly respect) posts something about me online, I’ll ultimately be ok – because I know I can sleep well at night. Yes, their comment will bother me some, but I won’t be second-guessing myself.

    - The dynamics of our online and off-line lives need to more and more resemble each other. I feel that if I’m genuinely interested in getting to know people, in listening to them and in contributing to their lives in some way – then that tone should spill over into my online interactions, too. I believe that, in the long-term, people can sense if someone is out there just for the publicity, or because they care (or would like to contribute).

    - Last but not least, the issue of “who we trust” is becoming more prominent. Just because I’m having a conversation (offline) with someone, it doesn’t mean that what I’m sharing might not turn up online, sooner or later. Just because someone doesn’t have a Twitter account today, it doesn’t mean that he will not have one tomorrow. Would I trust this person to keep this conversation between us? It’s probably in my best interest to be aware of who I share information with, and the tone of my offline conversations.

    Sorry if I went off on a tangent. And coffee with you and Raul will be welcome, anytime (although I don’t share your enthusiasm for Starbucks… but I love my JJ Bean or Caffè Artigiano!)

    • says

      It was great to finally have a chance to site and chat with you as well! I like your point about trust. It is so true, because what is offline becomes online, who you tell what does depend on whether or not you want it online later or not.

  8. says

    Hi Tris,

    Great hanging out earlier tonight. Very nice post.

    A couple of points come to mind, brought on by our talk and by your post. They might not necessarily be a response to what you’ve written, but I think they are nevertheless relevant:

    - We need to live with strength in our convictions. As we increasingly use online technology to communicate and interact with others, we need to become aware that whatever is shared online can be traced, and can be used against us (or for us). That thought, in turn re-emphasizes my belief – that there’s no longer a divide between our offline and online lives. So, I figure: if I’m willing to stand for my decisions, then if someone (whose opinion I don’t particularly respect) posts something about me online, I’ll ultimately be ok – because I know I can sleep well at night. Yes, their comment will bother me some, but I won’t be second-guessing myself.

    - The dynamics of our online and off-line lives need to more and more resemble each other. I feel that if I’m genuinely interested in getting to know people, in listening to them and in contributing to their lives in some way – then that tone should spill over into my online interactions, too. I believe that, in the long-term, people can sense if someone is out there just for the publicity, or because they care (or would like to contribute).

    - Last but not least, the issue of “who we trust” is becoming more prominent. Just because I’m having a conversation (offline) with someone, it doesn’t mean that what I’m sharing might not turn up online, sooner or later. Just because someone doesn’t have a Twitter account today, it doesn’t mean that he will not have one tomorrow. Would I trust this person to keep this conversation between us? It’s probably in my best interest to be aware of who I share information with, and the tone of my offline conversations.

    Sorry if I went off on a tangent. And coffee with you and Raul will be welcome, anytime (although I don’t share your enthusiasm for Starbucks… but I love my JJ Bean or Caffè Artigiano!)

    • says

      It was great to finally have a chance to site and chat with you as well! I like your point about trust. It is so true, because what is offline becomes online, who you tell what does depend on whether or not you want it online later or not.

  9. says

    Hi Tris, This is a good, and difficult, subject you raise; e.g., how much to share? I got some really good insight reading
    Reading Hal Niedzviecki’s 2009 book “ The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbours”. He is a journalist and social critic living in Toronto. Basically he sees the competing interests of 1) our need for connection (to larger community) and 2) for privacy as cancelling each other out. It would seem to be a paradox we each (or many of us anyways) live and wrestle with, on a regular basis!
    Cheers, Ben.

    • says

      I’ll have to look for that book Ben. That paradox is made more complex when people get offended when the creepy co-worker comments on your pub crawl from the weekend or your mom gets upset at something you wrote about a family dinner.
      We want it public and private at the same time. We can’t though. At least not right now.

  10. says

    Hi Tris, This is a good, and difficult, subject you raise; e.g., how much to share? I got some really good insight reading
    Reading Hal Niedzviecki’s 2009 book “ The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbours”. He is a journalist and social critic living in Toronto. Basically he sees the competing interests of 1) our need for connection (to larger community) and 2) for privacy as cancelling each other out. It would seem to be a paradox we each (or many of us anyways) live and wrestle with, on a regular basis!
    Cheers, Ben.

    • says

      I’ll have to look for that book Ben. That paradox is made more complex when people get offended when the creepy co-worker comments on your pub crawl from the weekend or your mom gets upset at something you wrote about a family dinner.
      We want it public and private at the same time. We can’t though. At least not right now.

  11. says

    Thanks for the post, Tris (and for the coffee, the Christmas gifts, and in general, your friendship) – it was great to have you and Guacira there

    I think the spectrum of privacy and publicness is one that needs to be navigated carefully. I did not include photos of me on my blog until late in 2009. I did not include photos of me ANYWHERE on Flickr or so on until one day in early 2008, our good friend Rebecca Bollwitt (Miss604) took me for lunch to Tequila Kitchen for lunch and then posted a photo of the two of us (the first-ever of many of what have become our trademarked ‘Raul and Rebecca’s self-portraits’).

    Rebecca posted that photo on Flickr and hundreds of people who read her blog went and checked it out. The secret was out, THAT is what Hummingbird604 looked like. And you know what? Nothing bad happened.

    Time has gone by and I’ve become more and more public (and more and more, my blog and Twitter account keep growing in readership). And photos of me keep popping online. And that’s quite alright by me. My university students *will* know I’m Hummingbird604, as you clearly pointed out.

    But I clearly recall a conversation I had with Todd Sieling at Northern Voice ’09 – it has become hard for me to find someone who will date me because, well, I’m a tad too public. People stop me on the street and ask me “are you Hummingbird604?”… it’s cute, but it’s also a tad problematic.

    I am fiercely protective of the privacy of my family and offline friends, despite my publicness. I monitor what I say, I am very honest and open, but at the same time, I don’t say anything I wouldn’t allow to have screen-captioned and be used to talk about me.

    In the end, if I post about my family and friends, it’s with initials and photos are not directly recognizable. If I post about you and me, for example, I include links to your blog and perhaps even a photo of the two of us.

    Seeing how you, Rebecca, Arieanna, Darren and many of us have handled our quickly evolving publicness, has made me believe that I’m going in the right path. And that the balance I’ve struck in regards to publicness and privateness is appropriate.

    And I also need to find a way to make my comments shorter ;)

  12. says

    Thanks for the post, Tris (and for the coffee, the Christmas gifts, and in general, your friendship) – it was great to have you and Guacira there

    I think the spectrum of privacy and publicness is one that needs to be navigated carefully. I did not include photos of me on my blog until late in 2009. I did not include photos of me ANYWHERE on Flickr or so on until one day in early 2008, our good friend Rebecca Bollwitt (Miss604) took me for lunch to Tequila Kitchen for lunch and then posted a photo of the two of us (the first-ever of many of what have become our trademarked ‘Raul and Rebecca’s self-portraits’).

    Rebecca posted that photo on Flickr and hundreds of people who read her blog went and checked it out. The secret was out, THAT is what Hummingbird604 looked like. And you know what? Nothing bad happened.

    Time has gone by and I’ve become more and more public (and more and more, my blog and Twitter account keep growing in readership). And photos of me keep popping online. And that’s quite alright by me. My university students *will* know I’m Hummingbird604, as you clearly pointed out.

    But I clearly recall a conversation I had with Todd Sieling at Northern Voice ’09 – it has become hard for me to find someone who will date me because, well, I’m a tad too public. People stop me on the street and ask me “are you Hummingbird604?”… it’s cute, but it’s also a tad problematic.

    I am fiercely protective of the privacy of my family and offline friends, despite my publicness. I monitor what I say, I am very honest and open, but at the same time, I don’t say anything I wouldn’t allow to have screen-captioned and be used to talk about me.

    In the end, if I post about my family and friends, it’s with initials and photos are not directly recognizable. If I post about you and me, for example, I include links to your blog and perhaps even a photo of the two of us.

    Seeing how you, Rebecca, Arieanna, Darren and many of us have handled our quickly evolving publicness, has made me believe that I’m going in the right path. And that the balance I’ve struck in regards to publicness and privateness is appropriate.

    And I also need to find a way to make my comments shorter ;)

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