Inside 1to1:Privacy

Survival of the fittest 2.0

September 10, 2010


Like gestation, postmodernism and the months between an election and inauguration, the world is at one of those in-between moments. The lower tech world is nearly dust, but the brave new world has yet to fully take over. In terms of media and marketing, it is the moment, perhaps, when the old guard will need to adapt in order to avoid a digital age death sentence. "There'll be only a few survivors," according to Bob Garfield, Advertising Age columnist and co-host of NPR's "On the Media" program. Garfield's book The Chaos Scenario prescribes a means toward post-media age survival. In this Inside 1to1: Privacy Q&A, Garfield shares some of his insights.

Inside 1to1: Privacy: In your book, you say that institutions that wish to survive in the Post-Media Age must practice Listenomics. Can you summarize the concept of Listenomics for us?  
 
Bob Garfield: For most of human history, institutions have been organized as hierarchies that wield power and influence from the top down. This is true of business, government, the Church, Hollywood--you name it. In a connected world, when those hierarchies no longer command a monopoly on communication, production and distribution, the power is being redistributed throughout the latticework of the Web. In order to survive and prosper in this new model, institutions must listen to--and exploit the aggregated knowledge, loyalty and labor of--the group formerly known as The Audience. Or congregation, electorate, customer base, etc.
 
1to1: In your book, you say that when it comes to protecting us from the darker side of a data-rich universe, there needs to be an evolution of law and public policy. You also describe the threat of "a billion little brothers." In a world of a billion little brothers, do we also need an evolution of ethics?
 
Garfield:There is so much worry about 1984. I worry about Lord of the Flies, in which human beings freed of oversight from outside authority reverted to barbarism. The anonymity conferred by the Internet is a get-out-of-jail-free for the Id. The Golden Rule is the only ethical standard required. How's that working out?
 
1to1: There is a section in your book where you say, "When everybody is listening to everyone else, whatever you used to think of as your personal privacy cannot be guaranteed. Nor even expected." You seem to be echoing Scott McNealy's now famous statement that privacy is dead. Do you think that privacy as we know it is dead? If so, what will be the long-term impact on humans?  
 
Garfield: Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously observed that the culture was perpetually "defining deviancy down." It is similarly defining privacy down. From confessional nonfiction to Facebook to The Real Housewives of Fill-in-the-Blank, exhibitionism is no longer considered a peccadillo. On the contrary, it is an industry. So that's one thing.
 
The other thing is that privacy has increasingly become a commodity. Celebrities exchange it for celebrity, travelers for security, shoppers for a few cents off at the checkout aisle. It's a quid pro quo, and the marketplace seems to be ever growing. A third bit of the new reality is Google. Once upon a time, if your name was in the paper, the next day it was fishwrapper. Now it is cached in perpetuity. To paraphrase Andy Warhol, "In the future, everyone will be infamous forever."
 
1to1: You mention Learned Hand's theory that a multitude of voices is better for society than one authoritative selection in seeking the right conclusions. What are your thoughts on this?
 
Garfield: Of course a multitude of voices is better. The problem is many of them are fools, morons, trolls and assholes. I look forward to the development of mechanisms such as the "like" button to allow the crowd to suppress the worst of their own.
 
1to1: Do you agree with Michael Fertik's assertion that a law similar to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act should apply to online posts?
 
Garfield: Yes. The aggrieved must be entitled to seek relief based on a high-but-reasonable standard of cause and limited-but-reasonable access to identifying data.