Book-review- Open 19: Beyond Privacy. New Perspectives on the Public and Private Domain

On: September 21, 2010
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About Layla Van Daalen
I am MA New Media student of the University of Amsterdam. After I passed my study Communication Multimedia & Design, I worked for half a year as a graphic designer. 1 year ago I moved to Amsterdam to start my premaster at the university. I succesfully completed my premaster this year, and I’ll hope to complete my master at the end of this schoolyear (2010-2011). Beside my study I am still working as a graphic designer and beside my creative activities I am also interested in new media theories. In particulair I am interested in social media, design & interactive installations, locative media, user experience & behaviour.


Book-review- Open 19: Beyond Privacy. New Perspectives on the Public and Private Domain [Paperback]
Jorinde Seijdel (Editor), Liesbeth Melis (Editor)

ISBN: 978-90-5662-736-,144 pages,

This book is an edition of Open, published by SKOR a foundation of art and public space.

At this time, an information age where information is everywhere and increases daily, the concept of privacy and public is much different then the theory about it in history.
The concept privacy and public has been reconsidered by different authors, working all in different professional fields. They offered in their work their own perspectives on the theory what has changed dramatically in history due technological developments.

Some authors approach this change from a philosophical view and use the theories of Foucault and Deleuze to outline this situation. Others, some work as media artists, also provide solutions and suggestions to handle the new situation. Each in their own way. This is also reflected in examples of art projects, movements, products and so on, while other authors uses literature what emerged from the cultural and social studies.

In the begin of the book the theory of privacy is placed in a historical framework. Rudi Laermans, professor of social technology, outlines the architecture of the society in history, to shape the differences between inside/outside and connects this to a historical perspective on privacy. In history privacy was mainly associated with secrets. Between the walls, an individual was totally disconnected from the outside world. These differences between the public and private space have been changing the last decades because of technological innovations.
Maurizio Lazzarato a sociologist use the theory of Foucault to describes this dramatic change which relates to the change of the state in a welfare state at the end of the nineteen century and the beginning of the twenty century. Beyond public and Private describes the change from the “government of the souls” to the “political government of men” using Foucaults concept of “Pastoral Power” . In history privacy is only for the rich people and now in modern times the only thing is private, is private property. The theory of Lazzarato can be found in the Tbilisi project what is presented by Matthijs Bouw in this book.

The theory of Foucault, the theory about the Marxism, and the theory about the industrial revolution in this book give a new view on the situation and establish new concepts about the connection between institutions and control, and the autonomy of the citizen. There is no more than a clear distinction between connections, like the theory of -inside and outside-, and the connection between -power and control-, rather we have to focus on an information age, a new era where the boundaries are gone, and where information about people is everywhere and connected with each other. We’re moving from bureaucracies to flexible bureaucracies, where the balance between the individual and control of their information, is totally different from that in history. This is central in the work of Armin Medosh and the work of Felix Stalder.

Privacy must be reconsidered. It’s not about keeping secrets in the room, but about regulate the flow of information. Even though, it is still an important issue. We need to find a way to deal with protecting the privacy of individuals and common norms based on society.

In stead of making a distinction between the government, institutions and the individuals we have to find a way to handle the new situation. We should consider a pluralistic concept, what is encouraged by Daniel J. Solove, a concept about the individual rights that are based on the connection between individual and society, and good for everyone. A good example is the article of Oliver Leistert that emphasizes the positive and negative outcomes of movements representing individual rights.

Besides the relationships between individual and institutions, where sometimes the big business (like Google) benefits from our information, we should focus on the data, and especially on the dataspace and datacontrol. We have to consider how this has changed with the arrival of the introduction of cellular networks. It seems that individuals prefer to share data to express themselves rather than worry about the consequences. Martijn de Waals article “the necessity of recognizing the nuances of privacy” describes exactly what creators should do when they come up with new products and services.

Rob van Kranenburg and Mark Shepard focus on the opportunities we can create and how we can benefit from the technology. They draw attention to a situation where privacy is not about the quality of an identity anymore, but about a continuum comprising a person, their things and their mobility. They would prefer that we benefit from the positives outcomes of the connected individuals.

They give examples of how to use RFID, ubiquitous computing to create an intelligent environment. In this environment, the authors suggest, there is no bureaucracy anymore, but the electronic devices can provide a space in which the individual manage their own information and not have to struggle with possible abuse of this information.

The book is an interesting and an useful collection of the different perspectives from the authors, examine yourself to think about the privacy and your own data especially when it comes to control, power and manage this data. It can also be used for good research for example, in researching a new media object, like the ov-chipcard or the electronic patient record, to help in understanding the concept of privacy and public in this new information age. Besides the different perspectives of the authors, the authors make connections with interesting literature and philosophical work. And after all it draws attention on the post-privacy society and outlines the situation about the construction of power and control over data and the position of the individuals.

The theory in this book, placed in a historic and philosophical framework is useful to reconsider the concept of privacy and the public. We should focus on the space between and be prepared for a possible dramatic situation, in which we are dependent individuals who only provide information rather than manage their own information. We should rather draw attention on the opportunities that come with it. I think this is an important message we must keep in mind to avoid negative situations in the near feature.

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