New Yorker Piece on Generation Gap, Privacy

I’ve been reading David Brin’s, The Transparent Society, pretty much since the beginning of the year. As such, notions of privacy and transparency are utterly fascinating. Brin’s book is a bit dated, being a decade old. This New Yorker article picks up some of the threads in a more up to date fashion. If Brin did not have me thinking more about how secrecy and accountability interact on a practical level, I would have to admit to being a bit more appalled at the generational shift in attitude it describes.

One thing that struck me as much, or maybe even more, than the author was Shirky’s idea about “Creolization of media”. Media literacy is another idea that has taken me, ever since I read Lessig’s discussion of it in Free Culture. Pretty much since the advent of personal computing, we’ve had static about how typing and electronic communications will kill traditional forms. I think it is easy to forget that this change is unconscious, both the article’s author and Shirky remind us of this perhaps uncomfortable fact. Lessig goes beyond that and suggests that the medium is irrelevant, the ability to communicate personal experiences effectively is more important.

I just don’t know if we are far enough along the curve to be making suppositions about how this changed norm may affect shared conceptions of privacy. What is perhaps a bit more clear is that this is clearly a valid form of expression, whatever your qualms with it may be. And if we were to try to suppress it, that would run afoul of a freedom on which I think we can all much more readily agree.

If I had to guess, I would be reluctant to point to the changing norm as a probable cause for increasing problems with Fourth Amendment issues. I would be more likely to point the finger at lazy government, law enforcement, or vested corporate interests who see “due process” as a drag, rather than the necessary balance that it is.

I think one could make a stronger case that a more transparency inured populace might see less issue with short cuts in due process. But I think you also have to be careful to frame the privacy question more clearly. Even with the most flamboyant of the upcoming generations, I would guess there are still some strong inner barriers around the most intimate details that they would be just as strenuous to defend. Or if transparency were not the result of their own choice, but forced upon them.

Of course, I could be wrong. I’m still trying to digest the arguments about transparency that Brin makes and reconciling them with my own past positions on encryption.

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