Living in Public

Long ago people used to live in small villages where every member of the village used to know everything about everybody else even when they were not close – each had a role to play in such a small community and the availability of information was vital to the survival of the village. As society grew bigger and more complex, it became impossible to learn about what everyone else was doing and as our societal roles became more encapsulated there was no need for us to have that knowledge anyway. Consequently, we developed this sense of individuality and privacy which now makes us feel fundamentally entitled to be left alone.

Fast-forward into a world dominated by social networks and services that allow you to stream every aspect of your life (with geotagging if you really wanted to). Suddenly everybody knows everything about everyone else just like the old days of the village. Many of us belong to new communities and tribes, not ones based on race or ethnic groups, but ones which are based on the shared interests and thoughts of its members regardless of age, sex, or nationality. We are no longer limited by our physical location or the group of people around us, we can be connected to the rest of the world if we are willing to engage with it.

It is not true that social networks and popular methods of electronic communication are leading to the demise of the human touch in our lives, but on the contrary, it is helping enhance the way many of us communicate face-to-face with each other as we can easily understand each other through the information we share through these networks.

Not every one of us is an artist or a novelist, so these random, mundane, and intimate status updates we make could be our method to express ourselves. It might not be the most elegant or sophisticated, but it is our only way to fulfil our need for expressing what we think. It is true that we might also do it to seek validation of what the actions we take on a daily basis, or to feel connected to someone, or anyone when we are alone – but none of that changes to the fact that it speaks to many of our basic human needs.

Privacy is not dead, but the sphere of what we consider “public” life is expanding to unprecedented levels both in amount and reach. We have to be careful not to out those who are not ready to participate in this new community and we must be careful not to breach our professional obligations to keep information confidential, but we also must realise that we are potential public figures as we become spokespersons for our countries, employers, and families on this new reality where everyone lives in public.

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