In his personal blog, BuzzMachine, author and journalist professor Jeff Jarvis makes an interesting point about the way we use social media. His latest book, Public Parts (2010), comments on the “privacy mania” of the modern-day Internet–our futile attempt to privatize everything we have about ourselves from the prying eyes of our nosy family members, bosses, coworkers, etc. The book’s title is a reference to Howard Stern, whose lifestyle is still very much in the spotlight. Jarvis argues that we, as an Internet-savvy, technological culture, are taking the value of “publicness” for granted. “If we default to private,” he says in his blog post, “we risk losing the value of the connections the internet brings: meeting people, collaborating with them, gathering the wisdom of our crowd, and holding the powerful to public account. ” He advocates for publicness, for open sharing and dialogue about powerful, important topics and links. He believes the Internet–and everything that is shared within it–is a part of the “public good;” and therefore, is necessary. It’s a civic, social good. We need it.
But is un-privatizing ourselves on popular social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter really safe? And how will it benefit us?
Well, Jarvis argues that by being open about ourselves online (“oversharing,” as some would call it), we can start a dialogue, attract people with similar interests, create community. I agree, and I think that is completely helpful on the marketing side. With one post, one can become almost a Web sensation overnight. However, I draw back on some of the over-exposure on the Internet. The right to privacy is necessary, especially on the Internet. Nowadays we have to protect ourselves from cyber-stalkers, potential employers, creepy ex-boyfriends, etc., who may be creeping on our Facebook profiles. I think that sometimes these social media sites overstep their boundaries by adding options for us to tag our location, our place of work, what city we live in and what restaurants we eat at, etc. Is that really necessary? Even though Facebook is all about “connecting people,” as its tagline says, do we really need everyone to know about this? That’s where I draw the line.
“The Internet is a connection machine… our wisdom of the crowd only comes from a shared wisdom,” Jarvis said in a public radio interview. Not everything needs to be shared, though. We can’t all be Howard Stern. Privacy is important to maintain, especially when it’s about you. We can choose to be selective instead, posting only what’s necessary and true, and not over-sharing every single detail of our being. That way, we can all have a happier, safer online environment and use the Internet for what it was meant to be: a place to connect, where people can just be people.
To read more of Jeff Jarvis’ work, check out his blog at www.buzzmachine.com.