Here’s the second of three rounds in the Economist debate on the benefits of sharing. This is my response to Andrew Keen’s opener.
Being public, I shall rely on the public to respond for me:
In a discussion on Google+, Google News creator Krishna Bharat writes: “The thrust of Keen’s argument seems to be that connectedness induces peer pressure for conformity which kills diversity…. This is a specious argument because connectedness/proximity does not induce commonality. Never has and never will. Otherwise, Jerusalem would be one homogenous happy culture with Palestinians and Israelis living in proximity…. What connectedness does induce though is a heightened awareness of how other people are and think, and ultimately empathy. That is certainly not a bad thing.”
Commenter Kevin Bonham goes the next step: “I think the ability to share actually increases the ability of radicals and new thinkers to flourish. In a world where innovators are dependent on traditional power brokers to spread their ideas, many great ideas could be lost for lack of exposure….”
But in the debate here at The Economist, commenter czlee raises a challenge: “We are only ever protective of privacy when we fear that someone else will pass judgment…. In order for the proposer to hold his line, I believe that he must also advocate a less judgmental society.”
That is indeed my hope and, back at Google+, Mr. Bonham presents the best exhibition for optimism: “For hundreds of years, gay people were in the closet, isolated and alone. As soon as they started being public, other gay people realized they weren’t alone, and that they had allies, and a movement got started.” No one should be forced out of a closet, but those who had the courage to stand out and challenge bigots and bullies used their power of publicness to disarm stigmas.
At Google+ Daniel McCully responds to the question I raised about regulating technology, arguing that doing so would “just hold back progress…. The cost benefit comes once the world has changed and people have discovered new ways to work in that world. Even the radio was once seen as a bad thing and a form of piracy. You don’t stop change, you adapt to it.”
Agreed. What we’re experiencing now is an effort to negotiate new norms for our new reality. It’s hardly the first time. The first serious discussion of a legal right to privacy in the United States did not come until 1890. The reason: the invention of the Kodak camera, which led to a similar moral panic about privacy, with The New York Times decrying “fiendish kodakers,” President Teddy Roosevelt outlawing kodaking in Washington parks, and legislators ready to require opt-in permission from anyone photographed in public. We negotiated our norms and cameras don’t scare us anymore. But now a new technology does.
“We are all in uncharted territory of openness,” Brit Koehnig writes, asking us to note that where “there is no Facebook, there is no freedom.” That’s not causation, of course, but it is correlation, revealing that fear of openness is a trait of tyranny.
Economist commenter Voice of Pragmatism points out that “this paper itself recently ran an article about the effect of blogging in the field of Economics, partially crediting the recent rise of heterodox views such as the Austrian School and Chartalism to increased usage of social media…. [T]o argue that unconventional thought is stifled, when it is far easier than ever before to connect with people who share your atypical viewpoint, is absurd.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
As for the unscientific and thus quite meaningless voting here, my opponent attempted to marshal his meager Twitter forces to stuff the ballot box. I responded by asking my followers on the podcast This Week in Google and in Google+ and Facebook to vote their conscience–and my side. In minutes, a 37% vote in favor turned into 70%. There’s another benefit of being public and having a public.
Oh, and if you’d like to vote — for my side, please — you can do it here.