Super Publics, Legal Time Machines and Lost in Google

danah boyd is one of the most insightful bloggers on the net and in a recent post she talks about "super publics".

"…In talking about "super publics," I want to get at the altered state ofpublics – what publics look like when they are infused with thefeatures of digital architectures. What does it mean to speak acrosstime and space to an unknown audience? What happens when you cannotpredict who will witness your act because they are not visible now,even though they may be tomorrow? How do people learn to deal with apublic larger and more diverse than the one they learned to make senseof as teenagers? How are teenagers affected by growing up in anenvironment where they can assume super publics? I want to talk aboutwhat it means to speak for all time and space, to audiences you cannotconceptualize…." – link to article

This quote made me think about how the Constitution was written for the super public across time and for that matter, how judges write their opinions knowing that they will be read and interpreted over long periods of time into the future.

I would bet that there someone has studied how case opinion writing has elements of writing with an eye towards the future – and how that makes it different from other kinds of writing.

The left-rigft blogoshphere makes a lot of hay out of juxtaposing a politicians words then and now because changing your mind is a bad thing, but when a judge writes an opinion – its like a time capsule or a message in a bottle that will wash up on thousands of future digital shores with who-knows-what impact.

This is what makes the Supreme Court so darn interesting. They write for the ages and they know it. Boldness is not a good trait IMHO.

Ms. boyd also says….

"… A reporter recently asked me why kids today have no shame. I told herit was her fault. Media is obsessed with revealing the backstage ofpeople in the public eye – celebrities, politicians, etc. Morerecently, they’ve created a public eye to put people into – Survivor,Real World, etc. Open digital expression systems coupled with globalnetworks took it one step farther by saying that anyone could operateas media and expose anyone else. What’s juicy is what people want tohide and thus, the media (all media) goes after this like hawks. Addthe post-9/11 attitude that if you hide something, you are clearly aterrorist. Should it surprise anyone that teenagers have responded byexposing everything with pride? What better way to react to a superpublic where everyone is working as paparazzi?…"


This reminded me of that old saw about imagining that every one is in their underwear if you are nervous about giving a speech – except in our digital future (and teenage digital present) – everyone is sitting their in their underwear and everyone else is taking pictures. It’s the democratization of Candid Camera or America’s Funniest Videos – except it gets kind of tiresome after awhile.

Maybe that’s the solution to future privacy – not that we will have any, but that we are lost in the crowd. Unfortunately, digital media doesn’t keep us lost if someone is interested.

A few years back, I became lost to Google. In the late 1990’s you could Google ‘John Mayer’ and you find me or some presentation I had given on the first page. Today, it’s all about some singer who won a Grammy and who my niece says is really cool. Maybe my generic name is a blessing?

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