technology: is there a hidden benefit to zero privacy?

I’m perhaps one of the few people on the Internet that purposely keeps as much as possible public on the Internet. I figure if I put it there, it should be public, because it will be public even if I try to keep it private. The internet is a copy machine, as Kevin Kelly says, and I assume anything I place there will be copied for some new business model before I have a chance to stop the mutation. That is actually more exciting than scary to me. I’m not particularly fearful of new business models as I don’t believe people do things with evil intentions.

Note that I think this is different than the debate on public and private content which I have not posted myself. I do think it is different for someone else to post about me, because I have no control over that content. Nor over the context, which is probably infinitely more important. In this case I don’t believe people are doing things, like posting something about me, with evil intentions, but they are often posting things without clearly recognizing the intention which is driving that writing. I’ll leave it to the reader to interpret what I mean by the two assertions in the final sentences of the last two paragraphs.

Many people are obviously concerned about privacy on the Internet. The arguments are that you would not want your medical insurance complicated by a discussion around a disease you contracted. I get this. So, I would not post information about a disease I’ve contracted. Of course, just doing a Google search (while my Gmail account is open on another tab) means that I am creating new content with my name on it inside of Google’s database, data which could someday become public. Yes, this is true. I just happen to think that Google has enough smart people to not make a careless business decision that would cost them more than it would gain.

And, yet, I suppose if there were issues which I am passionate about, like gay rights, that I would prefer that the Internet disseminate that information rather than allow it to be hidden according to the whims of the normal reptilian paranoid brain. How else do we shift that discussion if conversations are kept buried inside someone’s head, or inside closed communities? Is it not better to have these out in the open? Meaning, I would prefer that the Internet work as it does and subvert any attempts to closet ideas, shining a light on those attempts at subterfuge for the larger benefit of humanity. What is taboo now will only be taboo in the future if we don’t talk about it, and the judgment about whether it is safe to talk about it is better left to the collective consciousness than to the individual. I want democracy there. Some of the greatest thinkers in our world history have probably had their thoughts lost to antiquity because they were too scared to share them, thinking the world would not understand them, and rightly so. At least at that moment in time.

Also, would this not promote forgiveness, and allow people more space to shift their opinions? One concern is that kids would post something and then regret it ten years later, or lose out on job opportunities because they said something stupid or culturally inappropriate. Is it not better to create a community where we can see that everyone shifts their opinions and ideas over time?

One of the fascinating things about this new medium called the Internet is that it is only now gaining a “history.” We had cultural history in many other facets of society, but the online world has, I say, until this general vicinity, never had a past (at least there is no awareness of the longer history past twenty years outside a few isolated techie communities). We now have created that history: there have been waves of startups, technologies, communities, Web 2.0. There are now periods of history that I think the majority of the online populace would recognize.

Perhaps this is where the new startups will arise, within the space of historically contextualized reputation systems.