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Turkle on Privacy

I’m always struck when I hear people say that privacy doesn’t matter anymore and that “we’re all being observed all the time anyway, so who needs privacy?” and “As long as I’m not doing anything wrong, who cares who’s watching me?” I believe privacy does matter and that it is very important and that libraries have an essential role in ensuring privacy.

Sherry Turkle, sociologist, psychologist, professor at MIT, and author of Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet and How Computers Change the Way We Think (Chronicle of Higher Education, January 30, 2004), addresses this very issue of privacy in her fascinating new article in Forbes:

Here is a sample:

When the question of illegal eavesdropping came up, a common reaction among the gathered Weberati was to turn the issue into a nonissue. We heard, “All information is good information” and “Information wants to be free” and “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” At a pre-awards cocktail party one Web luminary spoke animatedly about Michel Foucault’s idea of the panopticon, an architectural structure of spokes of a wheel built out from a hub, used as a metaphor for how the modern state disciplines its citizens…. By analogy, said my conversation partner … on the Internet someone might always be watching; it doesn’t matter if from time to time someone is. Foucault’s discussion of the panopticon had been a critical take on disciplinary society. Here it had become a justification for the U.S. government to spy on its citizens. All around me there were nods of assent.

High school and college students give up their privacy on MySpace about everything from musical preferences to sexual hang-ups. They are not likely to be troubled by an anonymous government agency knowing whom they call or what Web sites they frequent. People become gratified by a certain public exposure; it is more validation than violation.

Thanks to Library Juice!

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