Losing Your Privates

Felix Salmon ponders the personal privacy consequences of Google Glass:

If Google Glass — and wearable computing more generally — takes off and fulfills its potential, it will change society’s norms about what is public and what is private. It is therefore entirely rational, whatever you think of the set of norms we have right now, to assume that they will end up moving towards something more well disposed towards the new technology.

Jeff Jarvis will welcome that move, and can come up with dozens of reasons why it would be a good thing rather than a bad thing. “There’s no need to panic,” he writes. “We’ll figure it out, just as we have with many technologies—from camera to cameraphone—that came before.” But let’s be clear here about how much weight is carried by that “we’ll figure it out”. Realistically, “figuring it out” means, in large part, changing norms: irrevocably moving the line between what is private and what is public. That might be a good thing, it might be a bad thing. But if you like the norms we have right now — or if you think they’ve already gone too far in terms of robbing individuals of their privacy — then you have every reason to worry about what the onset of wearable computing might portend.

I’ve no doubt Felix is right. I just have no idea how to counter it. Technologies cannot be unthought; and the products of it cannot be somehow confiscated. We just have to adjust – but the adjustment is ending any real zone of “privacy” as our parents and grandparents knew it. Withdrawing from the public space helps – but who can really do that? We are all naked now, as Jon Hamm has discovered. The only option is another technology: some kind of virtual loin cloth for those privates we want to reserve for ourselves.