Think Tank on Privacy: The Slack Chats

MAY 2ND

9:26 AM Naomi Skwarna:
Hi guys! I’m just checking in to say good morning. Also, I did a Google news search of “privacy” in the last 24 hours and this came up:


9:28 AM Navneet Alang:
That seems like a fitting place to start. “How much privacy is enough privacy” seems to be one of the main questions whenever the issue comes up.

9:35 AM Naomi:
Are there others that come to mind?

9:45 AM Navneet:
I guess one way to look at privacy is about balance – just as with this spy story, we modulate our own sense of privacy depending on circumstance. What you reveal to a friend over a glass of wine, what you say in a job interview, what you… write in a Slack about privacy! My interest in these sorts of things is always about how the self changes (or doesn’t change) in response to new tech. So another question for me is “how has our sense of privacy changed?”

Maybe another big division is between privacy as an issue of rights (what can the state know about me, how can data be used by corporations) and privacy as an emotional/personal issue (what do I lose or gain by changing how private I am, how does ‘being private’ affect my relationships)? That’s not really a question, though, so feel free to deduct marks.

1:30 PM Naomi:
I think about privacy in highly personal terms, although I want to understand it better as a civic and/or political issue. I always thought that I don’t really care what government or corporations know about me, because I have “nothing to hide.” But that was before I understood that it’s not actually about me, but rather about the way my information can be leveraged in order to benefit someone else.

7:38 PM Navneet:
I like that distinction b/w the civic and the emotional (civic is a good word).

12:43 AM Stephen:
With civic privacy, the technical issue seems to be an outside entity gaining access to your inner states. But getting intruded upon like that violates the feeling that you are secluded, “apart from company or observation.” However, the technical breach has an emotional toll. If we stop and think about our cyber-homunculi in their matrix-like dormancy on some air-cooled hard drive rack in a warehouse in an Iowa field, we might feel like we have lost our “state of being apart from company or observation.” Indeed, how can we ever be, when the details of our lives pile up indefinitely and automatedly–more hard data than even we probably remember about ourselves–uninterpreted and unseen?

In any case, i feel similarly to Naomi – what companies are doing with my data basically interests me not at all, although I’m curious what Naomi means by it being “about the way my information can be leveraged in order to benefit someone else.” I feel like I’m about to learn something.

I think my main interest re: privacy will come mostly from social media, and my own use of it, and how I have been an Extremely Heavy User in the past. I would like to curtail that. Today I stopped carrying my phone around with me when I left the house.

There’s this article which I’m using for another essay, which I’ve been thinking about.

It talks about how the distinction between “online” and “offline” is fake, because it’s all in our head anyway. The psychological logic of social media follows us wherever we are: “Twitter lips and Instagram eyes: Social media is part of ourselves; the Facebook source code becomes our own code.”

I remember when Facebook happened. I viscerally remember one day in class in university, shortly after a stranger who I was going to do a group project with asked me whether I had Facebook, and i did. Realizing that everyone in the room had Facebook, everyone was walking around with this shadow world floating behind them in another dimension, full of pictures of themselves and their public conversations with their friends. Ever since then that’s been the norm, that’s how the world is now, and because of it a person’s physical presence, their body, means something different than it meant before social media. A physical human body is essentially an avatar for the invisible information it represents. The amount of information a human tends to produce is now so wildly larger than it used to be, that it has shifted, at least my, perception of people. We hemorrhage information every day just by existing, and the person who is solicitous of that information, who feels protective of it, who feels like they want to hoard it, to stem its flow, to password-protect it, must, I guess, feel vertiginously exposed.

MAY 3RD

10:01 AM, Stephen:
Good morning, Chatbots!

10:02 AM Naomi:
Hi guys!

10:03 AM Navneet:
Hello, fellow wraiths.

10:04 AM Naomi:
Where are you guys all sitting?

10:04 AM Stephen:
I’m in my kitchen.

10:05 AM Navneet:
I am in a basement, but the sun is coming in the windows.

10:05 AM Stephen:
I’m in the sun, but the basement is coming in through the window so it’s okay.

10:05 AM Naomi:
I’m at my desk, which is in the dining room of my apartment. Nice to know where you guys are. I wonder if you guys would be interested in making a brief statement about what the word privacy makes you think of?

10:08 AM: Navneet:
For me the first image that comes to mind is just a screen.

10:09 AM Naomi:
Privacy makes me think first and foremost of the body.

10:09 AM Stephen:
I feel like we’ve got to get “panopticon” out of the way. There’s this standard trope of the ‘updated panopticon’ or ‘panopticon as metaphor’ in talks of the surveillance state — right? The original was: you’re in a cell and you’re not necessarily being observed all of the time, but it’s possible you’re being observed at any given time, and so you internalize the surveillance, and behave compliantly. The same is true now when, since it’s possible a government agency could have access to any of our online activities, consciously we’re like “I don’t even care! I still use Piratebay!” But unconsciously, so the theory goes, we are sheparded away from any truly seditious behaviour or even thoughts, because we know how serious the consequences would be of being discovered.

10:25 AM Naomi:
Or in the case of Facebook, police and curate yourself. The (updated) panoptic gaze creates — amongst other things, I guess — a kind of constant self-consciousness.

10:27 AM Navneet:
As Stephen said, the immaterial shadow hovering behind us (which i call a hologram!).

10:30 AM Naomi:
And there’s also an archive. I’m utterly horrified by those Facebook memories. It’s weird that we leave such a clear digital residue of ourselves.

10:31 AM Navneet:
Huh. That’s a whole thing, isn’t it? The ability to put one’s past to rest if of course a sort of privacy too. A screen is transparent, a thing to see through, but also a thing to obscure. When the “screen doesn’t screen” you get the past from which you can neither hide nor escape.

10:33 AM Stephen:
Ya, Nav, the privilege of forgetting is very important.

10: 33 AM Naomi:
I am stating the obvi here…Privacy is power, individually held.

10:34 AM Navneet:
Ooh, well put. “Privacy is power, individually held” should be on a t-shirt. “The privilege of forgetting” is probably more of a tattoo.

11:06 AM Naomi:
(naomi has left the conversation). JK. In the parlance of Facebook shade.

11:07 AM Navneet:
I’m still very intrigued by the fact that the body was the first thing that came to mind re: privacy. Wanna say more about that?

11:10 AM Naomi:
I enjoy online life and I’ve definitely found freedom in it… online life has been amazing for sidestepping a lot of the anxieties I feel offline. Probably in part because my body is unobserved. I definitely went from being a child with no awareness that my body was a private thing, to being highly aware that a female body, even a prepubescent one, should be hidden. And that to not cover it was shameful.

I think that’s why Sally Mann’s work speaks to me so intensely. Particularly this story about her little daughter, Virginia, who had never felt embarrassed or ashamed to pose in Sally’s photographs. Then Virginia saw an image of herself in The Wall Street Journal, with a black bar over her nipples and her eyes. The child was 4. Virginia apparently took a bath in her clothes after she saw that.

11:15 AM Stephen:
Damn.

11:17 AM Naomi:
And a lot of the accusations of obscenity levelled at her were projections, I believed. My opinion is that the photos triggered the thought of predation, which is what upset people. Anyway, I think about how my own body at some point became something I was constantly taking out in public. This private thing, which if I swaddled in enough layers, could be brought into the public domain. But that’s a sort of a hyperbolic expression.

11:20 AM Stephen:
What is?

11:20 AM Naomi:
Of feeling the body to be a dangerously private thing.

11:20 AM Stephen:
Why?

11:21 AM Naomi:
I think because people express different beliefs about their privacy, certainly across cultures. I guess westernized fashion, not attached to any religious belief, can be extremely private-in-public. But then there’s constant scrutiny, certainly levelled at women and whether or not they’re showing too much or too little.

11:25 AM Navneet:
If privacy is power, individually held, then the power isn’t only in what to hide, what to keep private; it’s also about owning what is shown?

11:27 AM Naomi:
Yes. So privacy also has some aspect of currency on personal terms. I’ve always been curious about the connection between the private and the intimate.

11:29 AM Navneet:
Me too. I saw a piece (or tweets?) by a woman talking about dudes who will reveal their feelings, but for their own catharsis, not intimacy. That may be totally tangential though! Privacy as another weird form of power?

MAY 4TH

10:00 AM, Stephen:
Cock a doodle doo. I don’t want to interrupt our flow, but I thought I’d just drop this very interesting paragraph from the Wikipedia entry on privacy. We can come back to it any time:

“The distinction or overlap between secrecy and privacy is ontologically subtle, which is why the word “privacy” is an example of an untranslatable lexeme, and many languages do not have a specific word for “privacy”. Such languages either use a complex description to translate the term or borrow from the English “privacy”. The distinction hinges on the discreteness of interests of parties (persons or groups), which can have emic variation depending on cultural mores of individualism, collectivism, and the negotiation between individual and group rights. The difference is sometimes expressed humorously as “when I withhold information, it is privacy; when you withhold information, it is secrecy.” “

10:11 AM Naomi:
Wow, Steve this is great! Openness can be tactical, I guess? Depending on the level of shame one has? Because sharing something private can make another person a part of that private, or perhaps secret, thing.

10:16 AM Navneet:
It’s a common narrative arc in film – like Short Term 12 which I watched yesterday (and was SO good!). There’s some kind of catharsis to the revelation of “this is the secret that I have been hiding”, and once you reveal it, you get closer, can make peace, can sail off into the sunset, etc…I’ve often had this feeling of “we won’t be friends until we know secrets about each other.”

10:17 AM Stephen:
I think you just taught me how to make friends.

10:18 AM Navneet:
Yep, just walk up to people and tell them your secrets. Works every time, especially at bars.

10:18 AM Stephen:
I guess I sometimes use personal revelations as artistic currency.

10:19 AM Naomi:
Privacy in art is a very intriguing thing to me.

10:27 AM Navneet:
You can own what you reveal but you can’t control the reaction. This is maybe part of the differing reaction between an “introspective” novel by a man and a “navel-gazing” one by a woman?

10:28 AM Naomi:
I just looked up privacy in the OED to see if I could clear some of haze in my brain right now:

1. The state or condition of being alone, undisturbed, or free from public attention, as a matter of choice or right; seclusion; freedom from interference or intrusion.

Also, the 5th definition in the OED is just “the genitals”.

10:31 AM Stephen:
It’s interesting that there seems to be a core component of “being alone” in the definition, even though, I think, we usually don’t associate it with actually being along. It’s like choosing to have parts of yourself “alone” while being with others perhaps?

10:32 AM Navneet:
“I’d like some privacy please” is what you might say after getting some bad news.

I’ve been thinking about the act of listening to a song “alone” on, e.g., a CD, and listening to one on Spotify and having your listening be tracked. One feels more alone, more fundamentally solitary – more about a relationship between you and a piece of art.

10:39 AM Naomi:
And yet it’s still a semi-private experience, right (listening on Spotify)? We have a lot of these half-private, half-public non-spaces on the internet. I’m intrigued by the connection between the private state and the alone state.

10:44 AM Stephen:
When we’re young, we identify with our mother or our parents, and we don’t really realize we are a separate entity. Then you look in a mirror, realize you are your own thing, and begin to notice that you have all these private thoughts you aren’t sharing with those around you.

10:54 AM Navneet:
I wonder if there are cultures that resist the idea of privacy. That the sense of a person being “alone with parts of themselves” seems unhealthy.

11:36 AM Naomi:
I don’t know if you guys found this yesterday, but I kept hearing the word “privacy” all around me…

MAY 5TH

nav
12:05 PM
Okay I’m here. The weather is a balmy eighteen degrees and we’re coming to you live from… a Second Cup at Avenue and Bloor.

naomisk
12:06 PM
I know that Second Cup! Classic! I’m sitting on the end of my bed today. My desk was too depressingly dark

skwt
12:07 PM
I’m on the dundas streetcar!

naomisk
12:07 PM
Where you off to, steve?

skwt
12:07 PM
family therapy!

naomisk
12:08 PM
I find the privacy of a therapeutic space to be very rich

skwt
12:09 PM
I’ve never been, this will be my first time

naomisk
12:10 PM
Oh! Steve, do you want to chat now, or would you prefer to settle into yourself pre-therapy?

skwt
12:10 PM
no this is my only time to chat, it’s cool

naomisk
12:10 PM
ok.

nav
12:10 PM
Or conversely, Steve, do you want to tell us all your deepest darkest secrets as an academic exercise?

skwt
12:10 PM
haha

naomisk
12:10 PM
That would be a great way to end this think tank. Just pile drive steve with our secrets. right before therapy

skwt
12:11 PM
hours of uncontrolled divulging?

naomisk
12:11 PM
hahahahahahahahaha

nav
12:11 PM
“Fuck privacy! Here it all is!” Still also v interested in therapy as an example of private space – private by design, has to be private in order for it to work.

skwt
12:17
also the privacy of it seems like just a magic shield everyone agrees to believe exists. I think I’m especially suspicious/cynical bc ive been friends w therapists for a long time and they don’t always keep everything 100% confidential

nav
12:17 PM
Is divulgence a word? I so hope it is! It’s great. But the idea of a magic shield is great – the illusion of secrecy is enough.

naomisk
12:18 PM
But the shared experience of the divulgence is always confidential. Because it’s so strange and ephemeral

nav
12:19 PM
Yeah – sometimes when we divulge it’s build intimacy? But in therapy it’s… intimacy without intimacy? Am I being cute for no reason? It’s weird though. Here are my secrets stranger!

naomisk
12:19 PM
I guess in therapy, you’re also…divulging in order to reach yourself?

nav
12:19 PM
oooh

skwt
12:20 PM
maybe it’s an interesting distinction between individual privacy where it’s just you and you can ‘guarantee’ the locked vault vs shared privacy which is built on trust and is shakier but also more powerful

nav
12:20 PM
ah, yeah. wow. shared privacy is… mutually assured destruction almost?

naomisk
12:20 PM
Hahaha

nav
12:20 PM
not quite, but something like that. it stitches you together.

naomisk
12:20 PM
Marriage is a shared privacy!

nav
12:21 PM
there is risk and reward. the risk is exposure/hurt. the reward is closeness. does this explain social media? i keep yapping about social media and desire/yearning. we divulge bc we yearn for connection. steve i think your facebook expertise may have just explained facebook.

skwt
12:22 PM
ya marriage but also like any relationship where you share private things? friendships even like, a creative writing class at George Brown college, cough

nav
12:22 PM
marriage is shared privacy! yeah! a cocoon of two.

naomisk
12:22 PM
I guess the marriage concretizes the privacy with a legal contract. even the fact that the law recognizes a spouse’s privilege

skwt
12:24 PM
wow! that’s a fun way of looking at things, outside of marriage shared privacy is a conspiracy?

naomisk
12:24 PM
WHOA

nav
12:25 PM
i feel like i’m missing a legal thing. like… george bluth feeling like lucille couldn’t testify against him.

naomisk
12:25 PM
I guess like, you know this thing…I’m forgetting what it’s called now…If my husband were to rob a bank, I believe I wouldn’t be required to say where he was hiding after he did it. Because my right to protect my spouse is legally binding. OH SHIT MARRIED COUPLES COULD DO SOME GOOD CRIME

nav
12:28 PM
I am now imagining a very practical proposal someone might put forward. “Look, we’ve been scoping this place out for months… and, like, I have these rings from my last heist anyway. Whaddya say?”

naomisk
12:30 PM
You know, I just realized we haven’t talked about trust and/or betrayal wrt to privacy!

skwt
12:30 PM
ya that seems ripe

naomisk
12:31 PM
Yes. Although betrayal seemed to be subtextual in our talk of the apple stuff

nav
12:32 PM
yesterday, you were saying that the phone becomes an extension of the self, and has to be protected as if it were part. right? so… is it that shared privacy is also about extending the self into its social/romantic connections? betrayal feels so bad bc something of oneself is turned against the self?

skwt
12:32
nav, that feels pretty right

naomisk
12:32 PM
Yeah, Nav!

skwt
12:33 PM
also why family betrayals feel bad, if you had been imagining yourself as part of this larger unit

naomisk
12:33
The family is metonymic, right? We all share a name

skwt
12:34 PM
yes, not always though in this lemonade day and age

naomisk
12:34 PM
Hahahaha. True, not even shared genes all the time

nav
12:35 PM
I’ve often figured out how close I am to someone by… my own degrees of empathy? a good friend elicits empathy, but someone really close to you, if something is up, it’s you who feels worried. their anxiety becomes part of you. it seems, at least in my head, that privacy is very much about barriers. but those barriers aren’t fixed. they’re porous. and can extend beyond the self. i’m picturing a bubble extending out and enveloping someone else.

skwt
12:39 PM
nav if you don’t call your essay The Huge Bubble i will be mad

nav
12:40 PM
lol

naomisk
12:43
Hey Nav, to refer to what you were talking about — do literary characters draw on your empathy in a particular way?

nav
12:44 PM
how do you mean? i just finished blue is the warmest colour and it made an impact. there is that thing where you feel bummed after a sad movie and you realize… you’re actually upset bc you’re sad for the character

naomisk
12:45 PM
But it’s interesting, because you can’t be close with a character, since there’s no reciprocity

nav
12:46 PM
but there’s the illusion of intimacy. of being let into a private moment. markers of what in life are indicative of intimacy (something as simple as being close enough to someone’s face to see the pores)

naomisk
12:47 PM
So maybe…a little like the magic of therapy that we were talking about before?

nav
12:47 PM
oh, yeah. yeah, i think so. magic shield. though in this case… it’s the magic two-way mirror.

skwt
12:57 PM
ok I gotta go! talk later guys, we’re on tomorrow yes?

nav
12:58 PM
okay. bye steve. that was a flat goodbye. i meant more “byyyyye steve!” it really has been nice to talk with such smart people.

naomisk
12:59 PM
We should all have a privacy drink sometime!

nav
12:59 PM
separately. each alone, occasionally glancing at slack.

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