Much as traditional journalism has given way to a world where everyone can be a publisher, traditional journalistic notions of “off the record” conversations have given way to a norm of unbridled exposure. As Mark Evans writes in “Is Anything Off the Record?” that “everything you say/write is public, even casual conversations over a coffee, is on the record.”
We have finally realized a perfect storm where anything can be published and everything can be found. Privacy through difficulty has given way to unintentional broadcasting.
For those of you who think this vision is melodramatic, let me share the following examples from recent personal experience:
- Someone from a company that competes with my employer wrote me an email that, published verbatim, might have embarrassed his employer. How was he to know I would not publish it?
- A professional group in which I participate had a heated discussion about whether it was appropriate to blog about topics discussed at our meetings and on our mailing list. We ultimately concluded that all of our discussions should be considered off the record.
- Someone attending an Endeca sales presentation made a less than favorable comment about it on Twitter. It showed up on my RSS feed, and I reached out to him, only to find that he had liked the presentation on the whole and had simply been posting in a bad-tempered moment.
- I removed my “relationship status” from my Facebook profile in order to protect what little was left of my privacy–only to be inundated within minutes by concerned colleagues who received a message that my status was no longer “in a relationship.” Needless to say, their concern was unfounded. Clay Shirky tells a more dramatic story along the same lines in his recent Web 2.0 keynote on filter failure.
What does this all mean? I think we need to get used to the more efficient flow of information. The propagation is neither total nor instantaneous, but it is still sufficient to overturn many assumptions that held only a few years ago. It will be fascinating to see how our social norms adapt to this new reality.