In weaving a response to me, Joi connected my arguments with Wendy Seltzer’s commentary on the norms of publicity.
In reading her argument, i found that i take issue with some of her assumptions so i’m putting them here for discussion.
We early adopters know how referer logs work… We know how to write .htaccess files, or at least whom to ask for something similar, if we want better (though still not total) privacy. We’ve internalized the norm that conduct not marked private is public.
There is no doubt in my mind that the self-referential “A-List” blogger knows this and WANTS their conduct to be public, but there is a second form of early adopter that is getting swept away by the blogging phenomenon. Live Journalers and other pseudo-private bloggers were also part of this. Many of them do not know how to work an .htaccess file or even manage the LJ Friends lists. Over and over again, i run into people who are outright shocked that their material is on Google. For them, their website is not public; Google is public. And they don’t understand how their private ramblings ended up on Google.
As technologists, we have a tendency to mock this population, arguing that it’s their own fault for being stupid. Well, this is foolish. The technology is not being devised by them or for them. They are getting swept away by decisions in many ways propagated by the A-List blogger-esque community that WANTS to be public, seen and heard. Furthermore, when they do realize things are public, they often don’t care so long as it doesn’t affect them locally. This is not because they are stupid but because the mass populous does not fear Big Brother and that is their conception of why they should care about privacy. In many ways, us technologists do a disservice to the population when we ask them to rebel against these technologies because of how institutions might treat them. They WANT to sell their data for the chance of winning a Porsche. They WANT the Easy Pass because they don’t think that the government cares; they’re law-abiding, right? People care about local vulnerability… things that will affect them personally. That’s what Garfinkel and others have noticed that people perk up when their identity is stolen or when their boss finds out about their digital behavior. People don’t think about how the technology is evolving because it’s not evolving in a direction that meets their needs. Thus, it is unfathomable.
I wondered at first if privacy tensions would ease as more people became more technically sophisticated, but I’m inclined to think that gaps in understanding will just move with the tech, and social norms will follow still further behind.
I think it is quite dangerous to believe that social norms are “falling behind.” Social norms aren’t behind; they’re baffled at the direction in which things are going. They’re pushing for a different direction and they aren’t being heard. People are using technology to meet their needs, but they are not prepared for how the architecture is pulling them in a different direction.
Arguing that social norms can fall behind suggests that there is a hierarchy to the four points of regulation. Those points are valuable in discussion because they provide tensions. Social norms pull in different directions than the market, the law or the technology. This does not mean that it is behind. Quite often, social norms leapfrog everyone else. For example, social norms pushed Napster into creating an architecture that challenged the market and the law. It wasn’t that the market was behind, but that it was pulling in a different direction and with a new tension, things need to be worked out.
Thus, rather than thinking about how social norms are behind, i truly believe that we should be understanding why social norms are pulling in a different direction. What does this say about the population being served by the technology?