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Sunday, March 21, 2004

Big Brother Now 

I last said that blogging about blogging was boring me – and that there are a lot of reasons to blog. But, there may be a really good reason not to blog.

Over 16 (!) years ago, my friend Joe, then the head of the department I was working in, taught me how to use email. He said, "Never email anything you wouldn't post on your office door." It's a great rule to follow, and I should more often.

A little more than eight years later, I published a personal website. Writing about my life without offending my friends and family was an interesting exercise. For the most part, those writings have stood up over the years. (However, I did hide a personal timeline of sorts a couple of years ago when – being a woman of a certain age – I started trying to lie about my age, much to the chagrin of the daughter I'd planned for 4 years.)

About eight years later, I'm now publishing stories about my life and my milieu in the frenetic blogosphere where speed and frequency are expected if not required for viability. (Apparently, the same pressures are even compromising our hallowed journalism – certainly distressing in a society that is hobbled without informed participation.)

Our communications media is getting faster, while we keep forgetting lessons from the past. MIT PhD candidate Fernanda Viégas surveyed bloggers on their Expectations of Privacy and Accountability. She says:
"...results reveal a certain naiveté in how most bloggers think about persistence and how it operates in networked environments such as the net, where information is constantly cached. As blogs become more pervasive and their audiences grow, the ever-persistent nature of entries and the direct link to defamation and liability are likely to become even more of a burning issue."
The issue isn't really new – throughout history, writers (and politicians) of every ilk have felt the repercussions of their statements. As it should be.

To apply lessons of earlier forms of communications, we need to remember that statements online, whether in email, on a website, or in a blog, are also subject to scrutiny – we need to think of the internet as a giant recording device, no longer an inscrutable ether or a well so deep we never hear the plink of a tossed pebble. I am now envisioning whatever I say broadcast much as Major Burns' cooings that Major O'Houlihan had hot lips were cruelly broadcast across their community.

Big Brother is us.


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