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Mark Pesce: what hyperconnectivity does to sharing and privacy

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
9th April 2012


Excerpted from Mark Pesce‘s stimulating book, The Next Billion Seconds:

“Ten thousand years ago sharing reached its natural limits at the boundaries of tribal kinship. Five thousand years ago, the walls of the city would have framed our span. Five hundred years ago, we could write our thoughts into a book, send it to the printers, and see ourselves eventually shared throughout the world.

In the age of hyperconnectivity sharing becomes immediate, instantaneous, and universal. Everything we share always goes global, even if it only rarely becomes pervasive. We share ourselves freely, believing our sharing bound by the gravitational forces which have always dragged our thoughts back to earth, but everything has now become weightless photons, and travels without interruption at the speed of light. There is no barrier, anywhere — not even within ourselves.

The hyperconnected leak information, always sharing something. At a minimum we share our presence on the network, this being the first sin that leads to a multitude of transgressions, revelation by derivation: Presence becomes location. Location becomes movement. Movement becomes activity. Activity becomes intent. Everything, from barely anything at all.

Revelation is the common, persistent and continuous condition of the four-and-a-half-billion-and-counting hyperconnected. It is not that there is no privacy anymore; rather, the performance of any act becomes its broadcast, traced out in presence, and, once shared, drawn into a world of meanings attached to our actions. We neither surrendered our privacy nor had it taken away: privacy and connectivity are fundamentally oppositional. Satisfying both simultaneously has proven impossible.

Since we did not give up our privacy, we are not aware that it has vanished, except in those still somewhat rare but increasingly common moments when we become wholly visible to one another. We can generate a peculiar quality of light, where everyone is revealed, all the connections we assumed in innocence casting menacing shadows.

A telephone carrier knows where each of its subscribers are (or at least their mobiles) at every moment. Mobiles, aware of their location, share this information with various services, together with any other relevant information. This sharing expands our awareness. We can know when our friends approach, or a taxicab, or a potential employer. Sifting through this sharing, taking from it the bits most relevant to the present need, reveals the hidden. A recent example: Girls around Me.

Creepy on first sight (an obvious playground for stalkers) the deeper one looks, the more interesting it becomes. Why women? Why not footy fans, car hoons or budgerigar fanciers? Why not Jews? Or skinheads? Or anyone who in any way differs from me enough to present a threat? The shout that once alerted us to a predator on the African savannah has become an message on the screen of our smartphone.

No one need explicitly share themselves in order to be thus captured, qualified, filtered and portrayed. All becomes apparent from connections, associations, movements and activities. Like attracts like, and this reveals more than we would ever willingly provide. Connection is the only light required to reveal absolutely everything.

We find ourselves utterly exposed, sharing everything without hesitation and without volition. We are completely known but do not yet know this. We believe we encompass mystery, that something can be withheld. The space for secrets has grown miniscule, as every act, connected, shared and broadcast globally, tells others more about us than we dare admit to ourselves.

Believing ourselves shy, we nonetheless desire to know the minds of others, longing to learn who to connect with around the topics of importance to us, and who we must avoid in order to preserve ourselves. Threat and opportunity: human drives have changed little in ten thousand years, but now everyone hears our moments of crisis and triumph. These moments act as beacons, allowing us to find one another.”

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