We’re All Living in Glass Houses

Posted on July 8, 2011 by Marian Salzman

Originally posted on Fuel the Future.

I’m experiencing a bit of social media myopia these days and think I need to adjust my lens. It’s getting blurry out there, isn’t it? In this crazy connected space we’re all playing in, every move we make is watched, followed and interpreted—sometimes without our consent. It’s a fact of life now.

With all this work/life/connecting/supernetworking going on, I’m having trouble keeping track of what’s public and what’s private. Is it weird to anyone else out there when someone comes up to you at a conference—someone you’ve never met face to face—and mentions a strange fact about you that they claim to have seen on someone else’s Facebook page or Twitter feed? I’m sure this is a neophytish attempt at bonding, but it somehow feels invasive. And with my world revolving around my social networks, there’s a certain whiff of feeling naked in public, over and over again.

Speaking of which, maybe the most bizarre loss of privacy today is the weight-loss reality shows—would I ever stand on a scale on national TV, and wearing next to nothing? No way. But I do watch with unabashed envy and wonder, Would I give up an arm for Jillian to train me? Hmmmm….

But back to a different reality. Think about Facebook’s latest entrée into career networking, BranchOut. If you succumb to this site in some sort of “must find new job” frenzy, you’re going to be sharing a whole lot about yourself on your Facebook page, which is great in some ways but scary in others. What is the filter for letting people in these days? Is there one, or are we all flying a little too close to the social sun to protect ourselves against getting burned?

And is “sharing beyond repairing” the new normal? I hate to bring up Anthony Weiner again, but he’s a classic example of social media confusion. After all, had he posted his parts privately, we all wouldn’t be hooting at New York Post headlines and he probably would still be happily ensconced in his job, with no need to “branch out.” If you’re going to conduct yourself in an illicit manner online, you’ve got to mind the blur: Keep your personal accounts separate from your work account, and put your public profile about a mile away from your personal one. A recent ABC News article about the scandal cited an Information Systems Audit and Control Association survey in which 42 percent of people said they have used their work computer or smart phone to get on social networking sites.

As marketers and PR folks, it’s hard to imagine our offices free of social networking, online shopping and anything else we frantically cruise through to maintain some sort of (illusory) connectivity to our lives, our competitors’ actions and trends affecting our work. But maybe this notion of sharing everything and anything is going through a bit of an overhaul in this age of hypervoyeurism.

YouTube has just launched Unlisted Videos, a new privacy option for videos uploaded to the site. People can post videos to the site but mark them as “unlisted.” This is a great tool for those of us who want to share, but more discreetly and more selectively. It feels so early 2000s, doesn’t it?

I just read an interesting piece in the Harvard Gazette about a case in Swiss courts involving Google’s (aka Big Bro’s) Street View service, which offers vistas of streets around the world for all of us to see. “The Swiss aren’t satisfied with the company’s efforts to blur people’s faces and license plates. Their privacy is being compromised, the Swiss complain, despite Google’s claim that their blurring technology is 98 to 99 percent effective. The Swiss want 100 percent anonymity,” according to the Gazette.

The article goes on to talk about a conference the university hosted in June that explored design issues and the line between public and private spaces offline. The meeting of the minds gathered computer scientists, ethnographers, architects, historians, artists and legal scholars to talk about this blurriness and how we can understand, cope and adapt to it as a culture.

I found it fascinating that architecture—bricks and mortar and particularly glass—can help people design online spaces, too. One speaker noted, said the Gazette, that “[g]lass houses offer notions of ‘radical transparency’…and redefine the concept of privacy.”

I’m still having trouble keeping track of what’s public and what’s private in our blurry world, but maybe this will help me remember not to throw too many stones as we all try to figure out the insane, speedy changes.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

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