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Free Thinking Festival: Is Privacy Dead?

November 1, 2008

Is it wrong to be blogging about an event which has been recorded for radio not intended to be broadcast until Monday 3 November at 9.15pm? Am I revealing something I shouldn’t be even though I know it will happen because I sat in a room and listened to a man tell me and one hundred or so other people ?

It’s a question I’m thinking about having come out of a debate at the Free Thinking Festival which posed the question “Is Privacy Dead?”

In an age of online communities, blogging, micro-blogging and picture sharing, I find myself thinking intensely about my personal activities online. It’s scary. I can’t get it out of my head.

What should I reveal about myself? What do I reveal about myself online? Do I reveal too much? Am I revealing my true self or, a convenient skewed image of myself? Should I be more private? Should I reveal more? Would anybody read anything I wrote if I did?

And if it is I have an online persona and a real one (and personally, I would argue that they are one and the same otherwise both pursuits would be absolutely agony day to day) are there times when I don’t want to participate online ? Are there times when my mood, my insecurities and fears curtail my online activities? Thinking about those specific things, should I in fact be more careful about how I conduct myself online in an act of much-needed self-preservation?

Don’t you loathe people who ask too many questions and can’t/won’t/can’t be bothered to provide any answers? Well, the truth I feel the pressure of time on me. There’s no time to answer the questions even if I knew the answers. It’s a fast moving world. The bar here at the Free Thinking Festival is buzzing – the “Speed Date a Thinker” crowd are busy preparing for their hour of fun and there’s a competition going on between me and another other chap sat across from me busily tapping away at his laptop.

What I’m struck by – yet again – is how a relatively brief session listening to the likes of Bill Thompson, psychologist Sonia Livingstone, Cultural Historian Jonathan Sawday and Geoffrey Rosen has set my mind buzzing with excitement.

The most pointed example raised in the hour long debate hosted by Philip Dodd was this. Geoffrey Rosen explained how some students he knew of would take to live-blogging lectures and seminars. Was this a use of technology which was to be welcomed?

The fact is it’s here. We all do it. Those of us who use the internet rely on opportunities like these. There’s a buzz. A desire to provide a personal response to events as we witness them. We want to share where we are at any given moment in time even if the majority of the audience don’t care or would rather prefer it if we didn’t clog up the internet with our ill-considered babble.

The answer is impossible to arrive at. My interviews kick off in around fifteen minutes time and the speed daters are about to start their speed dating session.

I also have to get this blog published as quickly as possible. I have to beat the bloke sitting opposite me. I know he’s blogging about it. I just know. Why would he look so intently at his laptop in the way he does? I must beat him to it. Seeing as he’s Bill Thompson, the need seems inexplicably even greater.  

Disappointingly it appears I’ve failed. Mind you, it might have helped if I’d been a little less verbose.

You can hear the Free Thinking Debate “Is Privacy Dead?” on Monday 3 November at 9.15pm on BBC Radio 3.

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