The internet age has fueled unprecedented levels of personal information sharing, sparking debates regarding online privacy. While some argue staunchly that protecting privacy is vital, others insist embracing openness by sharing data enables progress. Upon analysis, it becomes evident privacy and openness represent complex values requiring thoughtful negotiation rather than dogmatic polarity. Sharing certain intimate information voluntarily can enable connection and innovation. However, retaining privacy around core facets of identity and residence remains essential for human dignity and liberty. The growth of social media and increased data collection by companies has led to more personal information being available online than ever before. This has polarized views, with privacy advocates warning of the dangers of too much openness while open data proponents tout the benefits. A nuanced view shows while openness can promote positive values like connection and innovation, core aspects of privacy must also be protected for the sake of human rights and freedom.
In his article “Sharing is a Trap,” technology skeptic Andrew Keen argues today’s loss of privacy inherent in social media undermines creativity and freedom. Keen invokes the long philosophical tradition exalting privacy as foundational for identity and dissent. He references how seminal thinkers like Mill valued individual uniqueness. The author also highlights Warren and Brandeis’s 1890 invention of privacy as a right shielding the domestic sphere from journalistic intrusions (Keen). He goes ahead in his article to reference dystopian novelists like Orwell, who critiqued excessive transparency as totalitarian, stating that they “tried to shield individual privacy from the panopticon’s always-on gaze” Keen). Highlighting phenomena like Facebook oversharing and radical transparency advocates like Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, Keen warns today’s cultural mania for digital exhibitionism risks entrapping humanity in a networked prison hostile to originality and liberty.
However, while Keen raises valid critiques, Jeff Jarvis argues in “Get Over It” that sharing personal information also carries profound benefits. Jarvis uses his own experience blogging intimate details about his prostate cancer battle to illustrate how revealing private details can forge profound human connections. Jarvis further contends openness enables critical social progress, referencing Wikileaks as an example of radical transparency compelling powerful institutions toward integrity by stating that “WikiLeaks forces publicness” (Jarvis). Besides, the author also highlights how sharing on social media can enable grassroots activism. Arguing exposure is the new form of power in the digital age, Jarvis concludes that publicness, while requiring careful negotiation, remains vital for a democratic, egalitarian future.
Jarvis also correctly notes the immense potential for human connection and societal progress inherent in digital openness. Opting into sharing personal data like locations, interests, and beliefs can enable the formation of grassroots communities that empower citizens. Citizens should continue enjoying such options, as connection and collective action advance democracy. Nonetheless, he warns that individuals should maintain sovereignty over their data and that “Not everything I do is or should be public” (Jarvis). While acknowledging valid privacy concerns, Jarvis contends the open sharing enabled by digital media also carries significant benefits for human relationships and social change. He argues that voluntarily sharing personal information like locations, interests, and beliefs can help citizens forge meaningful communities and grassroots movements. This openness should be protected as it advances democracy through connection and collective action. However, as thinkers like Jaron Lanier note, individuals should retain control over their data, avoiding total corporate dominance.
Additionally, sharing intimate information about illnesses or struggles need not sacrifice dignity if done voluntarily, producing instead compassion and practical wisdom, as Jarvis demonstrates regarding his cancer. Still, as Keen notes, pressure towards coercive transparency must be vigilantly resisted, as freedom necessitates personal choice regarding concealment or disclosure. While freely sharing personal struggles can build understanding, forced transparency about intimate details violates human dignity and choice. As Jarvis shows through blogging about his cancer, voluntarily revealing intimate health information can generate compassion and wisdom. However, as Keen rightly cautions, coercive pressure to share private matters against one’s will must be opposed, as freedom requires the ability to conceal or disclose as one sees fit.
Upon weighing these perspectives, it seems prudent to distinguish between different categories of personal information when considering appropriate levels of exposure. As Keen thoughtfully articulates, certain domains like family life have long been considered sacred precincts of privacy. Preserving anonymity and discretion regarding home life is critical for personal liberty. This suggests citizens should retain the right to hide personal residences from geotagging.
In conclusion, sharing personal information is not inherently problematic, nor is privacy obsolete in the digital age. Instead, we must thoughtfully steward openness, strategically concealing some facets of life from exposure while selectively revealing others. Doing so thoughtfully enables us to leverage information technology’s possibilities while also preserving foundational human dignity and liberty from tyranny, whether governmental or corporate. Rejecting simplistic extremes, we can craft norms and policies that maximize both intimate connection and personal freedom. The challenges are undoubtedly complex, but with ethical responsibility, wise choices remain possible on the path ahead.
Jarvis, J. Your Life Torn Open, essay three: Get over it. WIRED UK, https://www.wired.co.uk/article/get-over-it. Accessed on 6 November 2023
Keen, A. Your Life Torn Open, essay 1: Sharing is a trap. WIRED UK. https://www.wired.co.uk/article/sharing-is-a-trap. Accessed on 6 November 2023