In this edition of all things Internet, we take a look at our culture’s obsession with privacy on the web. When Marshall McLuhan said that any form of “publication is a self-invasion of privacy,” he anticipated what’s happening whenever we put something publicly online. We let our guard down anytime we like something on Facebook, do a Google search, or send an email. This week saw two events that explore the tricky business of being online: the first, artists Brad Troemel and Jonathan Vingiano’s latest website, Surfcave, which lets you see what’s in your friends’ browser windows, and the latest Arts, Culture, and Technology (#ArtsTech) meetup on privacy and identity at Eyebeam.
#ArtsTech founder Julia Kaganskiy introduced Tuesday’s meetup by giving the public/private debate some casual treatment. “I really love it when Netflix gives me awesome suggestions for what to watch next,” she said. “But at the same time it does creep me out that they know that much about me.” Yep, the internet is both cool and creepy.
Expanding on the theme of the two-faced Internet, Cole Stryker provided one of the night’s highlights. An advocate for online anonymity, Stryker spoke about the benefits of staying incognito. His first experience with “anonymous creative culture” started with 4Chan, “part of the Zeitgeist lately.” The problem with 4Chan and other online communities? Trolls. Sure, trolling, as Stryker defines it, upsets “the emotional equilibrium of another for one’s personal enjoyment,” but anonymity has its perks; we can’t just get rid of those pests. Stryker argued for the power of remaining faceless, something that’s been around for centuries. Just think of Homer, George Eliot, and even Deep Throat. It’s an argument with some holes in it, but at least it’s a start to rethinking how there’s some benefits to keeping a low profile.
On the flipside of wanting to remain anonymous lies Surfcave. Anyone can create a login, and then, after installing a Chrome plugin, you get to see all the images your friends see in their browser. You can easily lose yourself in the site and its nearly endless scroll of images. It picks up where Troemel left off with Blind Mist, but it’s more personal this time, embracing the joy of putting yourself out there. We spotted a lot of porn on the site this morning, along with a lot of ads (we see a lot of those on the Internet). Well, now we know which of our friends like girl-on-girl porn, and they’re OK with us knowing that about them. It seems like privacy is overrated. There’s so few ways to stay anonymous online that maybe it’s better to just give in and enjoy it.