More on Privacy in the "Everything Is Public" Age

Previously here and here. Context is whether and how the conceptions of privacy will change when all email and social media can be archived and retrieved at will. Two reader replies. First, on the positive side:

I think that an interesting angle around your Avatar post is the historical use of pseudonyms from the Federalist Papers to George Keenan writing as X in Foreign Affairs. It makes me wish that I was in college right now because I'd love to write that paper.

Now, on a sort-of positive side too, from a reader roughly age 30:

I'm writing to disagree in part with the "end of innocence" discussion re:Dave Weigel and anonymity. I certainly think that this will make very particular behaviors - e.g. participation in assumed-off-the-record listservs - more salient for the very particular population that is actually paying attention or personally knows the injured/injuring parties (DC journalists, bloggers, activists). But ultimately, despite the ability of this group to create a lot of commentary on this issue, it's a pretty inside-baseball/echo-chamber effect. There are some several hundred thousand folks party to this discussion (which can seem like a lot when many of them have blogs) but of course, that's ~.1-.4% of the US population.

I think that instead, most folks will continue as they have before. And what my research on privacy and disclosure issues online has found is that young people are actually more aware of the effects of privacy and disclosure than older folks online (a group that includes me as well as you). That they still disclose more is not due to a Zuckerbergian/Utopian set of assumptions (for the most part, they're creeped out by that way of thinking) but due to weighing the costs and benefits of living in public and making decisions on what's worth it. Of course these decisions will be made with the same decision-making processes that decide the rest of their actions - as in, not-fully-developed. But a DC journalist losing his job won't change that.

Last, I'll also take issue a bit with the idea that "It turns out not really to be true that if everything is on the record, nothing can be embarrassing." While that may be true in the long run, we don't actually have enough information to make this judgment yet. For instance: we know what was said in Weigel's embarrassing emails, but we don't know what was said that led to their being leaked. If as seems likely this was part of a coordinated campaign to smear Weigel - for whatever reason - then that context might not fully ameliorate his intemperance but it would put it in a larger picture of DC insider political combat.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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