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<nettime> ars electronica theme conference: curator's statement
Armin Medosch on Fri, 24 Aug 2007 19:09:32 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> ars electronica theme conference: curator's statement

	dear nettimers, 

in two weeks time the ars electronica theme conference on 'goodby
privacy' will take place. as some members of this list are participants
of this conference, we thought it to be appropriate to post our
curator's statement in advance to warm up the discussion. 

armin + ina

Ina Zwerger, Armin Medosch
Goodbye Privacy! Welcome Publicity?

Ina: Weâ??ve never posted any intimate details on the Internet, and
romantic sunsets from the vacations weâ??ve taken together arenâ??t
to found on Flickr or YouTube. I donâ??t maintain a blog of my
experiences. I even get uncomfortable in a restaurant when the tables
are too close together or, worse yet, when people are seated there who
can listen in on my personal conversation. It irritates me even when
they're wrapped up in a discussion of their own and are definitely not
paying the least bit of attention to what I happen to be saying at the
moment. So, to the question of whether my private sphere is important
to me, the answer is a resounding YES.

Armin: In our first brainstorming session about â??Goodbye Privacy,â??
the conference theme, we quickly came to the conclusion that it would
be wrong to proceed under the assumption that we know what is meant by
â??the private sphereâ?? or â??privacy.â?? For a number of reasons,
we deemed it necessary to make the meaning of the terms themselves
and their theoretical framework one of the issues we aim to address.
Along with so-called intellectual property, privacy is one of the most
important public policy issues involving the Internet. From our work
as journalists, we are well aware that reportage about the threat to
the private sphere posed by surveillance technologies and control
legislation does indeed generate a certain thrill effect, but it
doesn't really shake up anyone besides those who are already â??true
believers.â?? Many politicians come out in favor of dismantling the
private sphere as a necessary evil in the war against terrorism, but,
for civil society, giving up freedom in exchange for security is a
really bad deal.

              Ina: The question of what value the private sphere
has for society isnâ??t so easy to answer. Our discussions about
â??Goodbye, Privacyâ?? quickly made us cognizant of the fact that what
we do and say in the privacy of our own homes is not threatened. We
don't have to say goodbye to this privacy. Quite the contrary: it is
celebrated, staged, omnipresent in the media. Whoever relinquishes
it usually does so voluntarily. But what are the consequences of
the inflationary way that what is private is now being made public?
The new tools of self-publication available on the Internet change
not only our view of what is private but also our relationship to
the public sphere. This conceptual pair has thus come to occupy the
spotlight of attention, and books like The Structural Transformation
of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society
by Jürgen Habermas, The Human Condition by Hanna Arendt and The Fall
of Public Man by Richard Sennett have become required reading for
concerned citizens.

On the subject of the term â??public,â?? Hannah Arendt wrote: â??First
of all, it means that everything that appears before the general
public is visible to and audible by everyone, whereby everyone
receives the greatest possible public attention.â??1 The second
meaning of the term â??publicâ?? designates the world itselfâ??that
is, that which constitutes common space and is shared by all, that
which is considered jointly held property. â??Rather, the world itself
is both a construction created by the hand of mankind as well as the
quintessence of all the matters and affairs that are played out among
human beings and that manifest themselves tangibly in the constructed
world.â??2 Hannah Arendt analyzed the private sphere as a precondition
for and point of departure of a public sphere whose interactions
are the basis for the critical correction of power. In her book The
Human Condition (German title: Vita activa oder Vom tätigen Leben),
the philosopher wrote: â??Leading only a private life means, first
and foremost, living in a state in which one is deprived of certain
essential human things.â??3 Maintaining that the absence of feelings
of interpersonal connectedness had become a mass phenomenon, Hannah
Arendt viewed this as a consequence of a mass society that destroys
not only the public sphere but the private sphere as well.â?? In his
1962 book The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An
Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, Jürgen Habermas takes
up the relationship between the private sphere and public, political
life that had been elaborated on by Arendt. Habermas acknowledges
that the meanings of public and private had changed fundamentally
since antiquity, but he expressed the opinion that, even now, the
Hellenistic model of the public sphere still possesses a certain
â??normative power.â??4 In the 17 th century, and thus during a time
of expansion of commerce and growth of private property in Europe,
there emerged a private sphere in which educated citizens engaged in
exchanges of opinions. This private sphere, according to Habermas,
became the breeding ground of a critical public that constituted a
counterweight to governmental power.5 Thus, the public and private
spheres are not diametrical opposites in the narrow sense; rather,
they came into existence at the same time in history and coexist in an
interdependent relationship that can be termed dialectical. Habermas
noted that the triumph of bourgeois society over the absolutist state
and the subsequent expansion of the public sphere already began to
usher in its decline.

This critique is taken further by Richard Sennett in his book The Fall
of Public Man in which the logic of Industrial Society is said to lead
to a â??dead public spaceâ??:â??When everyone has each other under
surveillance, sociability decreases, silence being the only form of
protection.â??6 The example he cites is that of the modern open-plan
office:â??When people are all day long visually exposed to one
another, they are less likely to gossip and chat, more likely to keep
to themselves.â??7 This means that transparent environments are not
necessarily conducive to social interaction. What is designed to boost
efficiency and productivity in the workplace most certainly does not
promote community spirit. Without the protection of a private sphere,
people withdraw. Or, as the American sociologist formulated it:
â??Human beings need to have some distance from intimate observation
by others in order to feel sociable.â?? That public dealings always
involve masks is another hypothesis of this 1976 book. When these
masks are absent, what comes about is something that might be termed
the â??terror of intimacy.â?? In this connection, Richard Sennett
speaks of the â??intimate societyâ?? and the â??end of public
cultureâ??: â??The system of public expression became one of personal
representation.â??8 The cult of personality demands extroverted,
outgoing characters. This â??process of self-expressionâ?? is said to
be an ersatz for political discourse:â??The public thus was emptied of
people who wanted to be expressive in it, as the terms of expression
moved from the presentation of a mask to the revelation of one's
personality, of oneâ??s face, in the mask one wore in the world.â??9

Private loquaciousness endangers what Habermas calls â??the critical
public sphere.â?? Personality-drive pop culture, the self-absorbed
celebrity blah-blah of the tabloids and being bared Big Brother-style
may be entertaining indeed but they donâ??t create a general public
thatâ??s interested in political discourse or the public good.
â??Private life is political,â?? was a slogan of the 1968 protest
generation. Almost 40 years later, one gets the impression from blogs
full of personal concerns that the political discourse has been
absolutely overwhelmed by the private sphere. Powered by Web 2.0
technologies, the I-stream has gone mainstream. What has remained
unchanged is the persistent hope that the Internet can bring about the
resurrection of civi society.
The advent of citizensâ?? networks was already being welcomed with the
arrival of electronic mail-boxes. While the public sphere was
increasingly disappearing from the cityscape, there were celebrations of
the emergence of a new critical public domain on the Web. Internet 1.0
was even associated with the chance that this could expand into a global
phenomenon. From the Zapatistas who were posting the communiqués of
Subcomandante Marcos online to the organizers of the World Social Forum,
grass-roots democratic movements â??without a leader, without a center,
without an ideologyâ?? were already using the Internet with astounding
efficiency in the 1990s to mobilize protest movements from the bottom
rungs of the political hierarchy. There were experiments with new forms
of political action such as virtual sit-ins. Nevertheless, what was
beingconjured up in mainstream media in the late â??90s was, above all,
the Internet as the source of potentially immeasurable wealth. And when
the New Economy bubble burst at the turn of the millennium, many
observers were ready to throw out the baby with the bathwater and sound
the death knell for all the purported Internet utopias. But it didn't
take long for the next development to arrive. By 2004, open source
handbook publisher Tim O'Reilly was proclaiming the maturation of the
young Internet into Web 2.0. Linux and other open source software had
triggered an unbelievably vibrant wave of innovation, and so-
called dynamic Web applications or service-oriented architectures set
off a new innovation boom in the Internet. The new â??tools for
self-publicationâ?? are giving rise to new public spheres
 whose relevance we want to discuss under the heading â??The New Public
Life.â?? What is it, actually, thatâ??s being lived out here â??in publicâ???
Who are the millions of users of YouTube, MySpace, Blogger and
Wordpress? What longings and needs are being expressed here? What role
is played by life made public online?

The open question is whether these platforms, forums and channels
constitute a common public sphere in the sense of critical potential
for civil society, or whether this potential is nothing more than an
illusion for the simple reason that the user-friendly sites that host
this self-publication are not public facilities or commons, but rather
private property for the most part. Just like the benches in shopping
malls, MySpace, YouTube & Co. are public meeting places in a private
domain. What we're permitted to do there and whatâ??s prohibited are
decided by communications designers, start-up founders and venture
capitalists. The process of personal exchange proceeds according
to their rules. No one knows how long his/her bits and bytes will
remain available in the providerâ??s display case. Perhaps theyâ??ll
be removed because theyâ??re â??out of placeâ??; maybe theyâ??ll be
sold and taken down. Actually, anyone who enters the world of the
self-publicists and social networkers has already said goodbye to
the private sphere in the classical sense. It almost seems as if
weâ??ve witnessed the emergence of a new type of personality that has
cast aside the old bourgeois rules of modesty and respectability.
Of course, this can also be seen in a thoroughly positive light:
as over-coming the repressions of patriarchy, as â??outingâ?? in
the sense of the gay, lesbian, queer and transgender movement, as
performative self-invention in the sense of Judith Butler. But
the fact is that denizens of the Web 2.0 mainstream take a rather
thoughtless approach to dealing openly with their innermost feelings.
Exhibitionism practised on a mass level simply does not lead to
a discursive public sphere, but rather to the final victory of
Sennettâ??s â??tyranny of intimacy.â?? We inhabit i-society: whether
at iGoogle or iTunes, the desire to show what youâ??ve got is stronger
than the fear of being monitored. Indeed, this self-publication is
not always completely voluntary. Some of the new applications that
visualize our social relationships and friendship networksâ??Xing and
LinkedIn, for exampleâ??are systematically used for job search and
personnel recruitment purposes. Building up an online reputation,
collecting â??pointsâ?? in forums like Digg or its German counterpart
Yigg are necessary preconditions for people to even take notice of
your existence.

The predominantly privately-owned platforms for self-publication are
extraordinarily well suited to data mining, to customized creation
of personality profiles. What goes on in the communities branded
as â??architectures for participationâ?? is an object of interest
and a field of activity of entire armies of marketing analysts and
brand-name consultants operating behind the scenes. User-generated
data that provide indications of everything from personal inclinations
to social trends are analyzed not only by those who harvest them;
this is merchandise in inter-company, international commerce. The
problem isnâ??t registration of individual data traces but rather the
evaluation of collective data flows, according to David Lyon. The
Canadian sociologist describes the actual function of surveillance
as social sorting, as the establishment of information structures
designed to perform social selection.10

The unrivaled champions of data collection are the major search
engines like Google. That corporation recently surprised the general
public with what was apparently a well-meaning announcement that each
userâ??s individual â??search historyâ?? would henceforth be stored
in memory for only 18 months. After all, most people had probably not
been aware that their search queries in combination with their IP
addresses could even be archived for that long. Google, Yahoo & Co.
lure users with a wide variety of offerings ranging from webmail and
personal blogs to programs to create and edit texts and do spreadsheet
calculations online. These data are then analyzed by indefatigable
nerd-fairies, so that search engines will soon know more about us than
we do ourselves. The magic word is â??personalized search,â?? which
means that every query submitted to Google generates search results
attuned to the userâ??s personal interests.

This tendency is evident clear across the Internetâ??s leading edge.
Amazon proudly claims to know which book you want to read next even
before you know it, while Last.fm suggests new music to you on the
basis of a detailed profile of your personal musical taste, which
is compared to the profiles of other users. As the new science of
networks (as practiced by Albert-László Barabási, Duncan J. Watts
and others) tells us, we are subject to the small-world phenomenon and
are thus much more closely interrelated than we may have imagined.
Network analysis investigates social relationships on the basis of
models derived from mathematical graph theory. Today, everything
can be depicted graphically â??social relationships in a group or
relations between devices that establish linkups in the Internet. How
do certain nodes (people, websites, firms, concepts/ideologies) come
to acquire more power than others? The individual who solves this
puzzle is on the fast track to becoming the next Bill Gates or Mao

The danger inherent in this is not only that interpersonal
relationships are being reduced to the level of mechanical switches.
What seems to be asserting itself here is the diktat of being
connected. In today's discourse, concepts like personal autonomy and
free will are shifted to the back burner; the spotlight is now on the
probabilistic calculability of human beings. Whereas each individual
one of us remains substantially unpredictable, we, in our statistical
behavior as a mass, are calculable â??whether as â??rational profit
optimizersâ?? on the stock exchange or as consumers of assorted
superfluous paraphernalia. The vision of a control-based society
perfected through the use of automated information technology is a
sort of phantasm that is shared by certain segments of the ruling
elite as well as their critics (the paranoids, you might say). These
fantasies of technological omnipotence are getting updated these days
in the social network analyses of risk capital firms and the computer
dragnet techniques employed by law enforcement and intelligence
agencies. Whereas citizens are becoming increasingly transparent in
their dealings with the state, the executive branch of government is
taking the liberty of expanding the body of information classified as
top secret. From covert surveillance programs to clandestine flights
to secret prisons, law enforcement and intelligence agencies have
obtained powers that are not subject to direct democratic control.
This also applies to large-scale political events in connection
with which civil rights are temporarily suspended or annulled
altogetherâ??for example, arbitrary bans on demonstrations and orders
to disperse groups peacefully assembled.

Georg Simmel, one of the founders of modern sociology, already began
more than a century ago to work on the subject of secrets, which
he characterized as one of civilization's greatest achievements.
Furthermore, there are even certain situations in which we as
individuals are capable of independent, autonomous action only when
we are able to maintain secrecy. Simmel is cited by Helen Nissenbaum,
who introduced the concept of â??contextual integrityâ??11 into the
discussion of the private sphere. The protection of the private
sphere can best be defined as control over access to ones person.
Philosopher Beate Rössler differentiates between local privacy
(e.g. ones residence), decisional privacy (decisions and actions)
and informational privacy, which refers to the control we exert
over what others know about us.12 Privacy is the foundation of
individual freedom and autonomy; itâ??s the zone in which we can take
a refreshing break from our â??public roles,â?? in which we can form
opinions and express them without risk, and in which we can share
secrets. This form of privacy enables us to continue to function as
political beings capable of acting on our own account.13

This cannot simply be a matter of a right established in writing,
the loss of which we lament. In actual practice, there are many ways
and means of putting up â??creative resistance.â?? They range from
artistic interventions that beat the system with its own weapons
to so-called privacy architectures based on open source software
and open standards. The best way is probably to create and foster
public spheres that are â??commonâ?? and that consist of commons.
These public spheres of civil society, realms that belong to the
multitude,14 make it possible to maintain or reassert control over
domains that are settings for behavioral latitude, and to lead an
active, vociferous public life. In this sense, â??Goodbye, Privacyâ??
ought to be followed up by a cheerful â??Welcome Publicity!â??

Translated from German by Mel Greenwald

Ina Zwerger and Armin Medosch are the guest-curators of the â??Goodbye
Privacyâ?? symposium at Ars Electronica, Linz Septemebr 06./07. 2007


     See Hannah Arendt, Vita activa oder Vom tätigen Leben, 1972, Piper;
p. 65
     Ibid, p. 65
     Ibid, p. 73
     See Jürgen Habermas, Strukturwandel der �ffentlichkeit, 1962; 1990;
Suhrkamp; p. 57
  5  This critical public sphere in which public opinion is formed out
of conversations among private persons is by
     no means identical with the representative public sphere of a
country. Later in â??Die Gesellschaft des Spektakels,â??
     Guy Debord will critique a purely representative public sphere.
     See Richard Sennett, The Fall of the Public Man; 1974; W.W. Norton;
p. 15
     Ibid, p. 15
     Ibid, p. 26
     Ibid, p. 261
     See David Lyon: â??Security, Seduction and Social Sorting: Urban
Surveillanceâ?? in In the Shade of the Commons,
     New Delhi: Sarai; See p. 52 in this catalog.
     See p. 39 in this catalog
     See Beate Rössler, Der Wert des Privaten. 2001, Suhrkamp; See p. 26
in this catalog.
     See Paolo Virno: Grammatik der Multitude. Untersuchungen zu
gegenwärtigen Lebensformen, ID Verlag 2005

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