As a mat­ter of his­tor­i­cal analy­sis, the rela­tion­ship between secre­cy and pri­va­cy can be stat­ed in an axiom: the defense of pri­va­cy fol­lows, and nev­er pre­cedes, the emer­gence of new tech­nolo­gies for the expo­sure of secrets. In oth­er words, the case for pri­va­cy always comes too late. The horse is out of the barn. The post office has opened your mail. Your pho­to­graph is on Face­book. Google already knows that, notwith­stand­ing your demo­graph­ic, you hate kale.”

Some­thing creepy hap­pened when mys­tery became sec­u­lar, secre­cy became a tech­nol­o­gy, and pri­va­cy became a right. The invi­o­la­bil­i­ty of the self replaced the inscrutabil­i­ty of God. No won­der peo­ple got bug­gy about it.”

In the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, the gold­en age of pub­lic rela­tions, pub­lic­i­ty, mean­ing the atten­tion of the press, came to be some­thing that many pri­vate cit­i­zens sought out and even paid for. This has led, in our own time, to the para­dox of an Amer­i­can cul­ture obsessed, at once, with being seen and with being hid­den, a world in which the only thing more cher­ished than pri­va­cy is pub­lic­i­ty. In this world, we chron­i­cle our lives on Face­book while demand­ing the lat­est and best form of pri­va­cy protection—ciphers of num­bers and letters—so that no one can vio­late the selves we have so entire­ly con­trived to expose.”

Just a mar­vel­lous his­tor­i­cal account of how the con­cepts of pri­va­cy, secre­cy, mys­tery, pub­lic­i­ty and trans­paren­cy devel­oped under the influ­ence of new tech­nolo­gies.

(via Jill Lep­ore: Pri­va­cy in an Age of Pub­lic­i­ty : The New York­er)

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Kars Alfrink

Kars is an independent designer, researcher and educator focused on emerging technologies, social progress and the built environment.