Nothing Wrong with the Kids: SXSWi Notes on #peephack

I have posted below the notes I used for my part of my SXSW panel presentation. They're rough but good enough to give a sense of the perspective I brought to the subject of 'How Peep Culture has Hacked Your Reputation and Brain'.   

Introductory Comments

We spend far too much time conceiving fault in people who are active on social networks — finding Freddy Kreuger hiding behind every Facebook post, unearthing social decay in every lustful, violent or sarcastic video, decrying the death of art in 'selfies', seeing self-expression as nothing more than pathological narcissism.

Journalists in particular — but also public intellectuals like Morozov, Gladwell and Keen — take perverse delight it seems in finding any study or number that seemingly demonstrates that social networks are numbing mind sucks, fair ground only for fools, black hat hackers, braggarts, rogue nations, dictators, spy agencies, and identity thieves

Well, here's what I say to that: To quote Walt Whitman:  

“Great is youth, and equally great is old age . . . . great are the day and night; / Great is wealth and great is poverty . . . . great is expression and great is silence.” 

We are social; we want to connect; we see self-expression as about social identity and a way to remove the uncertainty of response. Social networks — and peep culture is about this as well.

On Peep Culture's Impact on Pop Culture

I am as appalled as the next person by the idiots who embarrass themselves on reality television, who speak with the kind of braggadocio that belies their basic illiteracy — they are soooo boring. And it is so unfortunate that their flummery passes as entertainment.

But there is another side . . . I am 63 years old and grew up dropping acid to Cream, Iron Butterfly, Blind Faith, Jimi Hendrix and The Doors. I started to lose interest in music after the Bee Gees, hated Abba, Blondie and Boy George, and started to come back to musical life with the Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, and Pearl Jam.

It wasn't until I started to see indie bands being talked about and sampled on music blogs and social networks about eight or nine years ago that my passion for music was reborn and retooled. I have come to singers like Ed Sheran, Ben Howard, Daughter, Feist, Lyyke li, Sharon Van Etten, and Sarah Jaffe because people whose judgement I respect — but have never met — pointed me to them. This is also digital life today —the enthusiastic sharing of passions in communities of interest.

So, what am I saying? Self expression and self-searching — and sharing the outcomes — also brings us together. Yeah, we have to put up with a lot of dross and lot of people walking around with crooked elbows from taking pictures of themselves in witless and dazed poses. But I can tolerate that for the chance to meet new partners in music and art and literature, and share and talk about ideas with them.


The most controversial of all the topics we will cover is the threat to privacy from the relentless exposure of 'self' on social networks. Sure we should be afraid of the 'default-to-wide openness' policies of many social platforms. But participation in networked publics does not imply that we have rejected privacy as a value or concept. Nor does it mean that we are surrendering any notion of being privacy just because we have given a little bit of it up. 

To quote dana boyd:
"All teens have a sense of privacy, although their definitions of privacy vary widely. Their practices in networked publics are shaped by their interpretation of the social situation, their attitudes towards privacy and publicity, and their ability to navigate the technological and social environment. As such, they develop intricate strategies to achieve privacy goals . . . (privacy) is related more to agency and the ability to control a social situation than particular properties of information.”

So let's understand that privacy is a social construct, over which we can either exercise individual control or fight as the EFF here and OpenMedia in Canada do to protect it when companies and governments try to invade it for their own purposes. I think we should suspend value judgements about the extent to which some people are ready to live out loud online.

Express Yourself — Equally

SXSWi #PeepHack Trailer