Thursday, January 28, 2010

Clive Thompson on Obscurity

Clive Thompson wrote a great blog post about the value of obscurity. He touches on an important theme that we will discuss throughout the semester about the value of privacy. While reading Thompson's piece substitute 'obscurity' for 'privacy' and you'll understand why privacy is important.

Thompson writes,
The lesson? There’s value in obscurity.

After all, the world’s bravest and most important ideas are often forged away from the spotlight — in small, obscure groups of people who are passionately interested in a subject and like arguing about it. They’re willing to experiment with risky or dumb concepts because they’re among intimates. (It was, after all, small groups of marginal weirdos that brought us the computer, democracy, and the novel.)

Technically speaking, online social-networking tools ought to be great at fostering these sorts of clusters. Blogs and Twitter and Facebook are, as Internet guru John Battelle puts it, “conversational media.” But when the conversation gets big enough, it shuts down. Not only do audiences feel estranged, the participants also start self-censoring. People who suddenly find themselves with really huge audiences often start writing more cautiously, like politicians.
In the same way that obscurity fosters the generation of ideas, privacy also fosters intellectual, social, and cultural experimentation that allows societies to thrive.

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