in 1999 we built a system called I2I that would monitor you on your computer--it could see what you were writing, the music you were listening to--and find other people online who were doing similar things. You could IM with them, video conference, share documents, and leave notes for people who might be doing something similar in the future. I2I was a kind of surveillance system, but people liked using it because they could see what their firends were doing and interact with them whenever it was relevant.
I remember demonstrating this system to an NSF program director on a site visit to Northwestern. When he asked about privacy, I said, "People will give up privacy in order to interact with each other, to socialize and benefit from each others' expertise. Privacy won't be an issue." I remember the long stare the guy gave me. Charles Martin from Google came by a few months later and when he saw the demo he was much more excited.
LA Times writer Judith Lewis's piece on privacy in the age of twitter shows just how far we've come since then. Lewis laments that we 'like to be watched' and and so privacy is eroded.
But while Lewis makes a point about unwanted wiretapping and surveillance, and the psychological need for privacy, I see no way that it follows that twitter robs you of your privacy.
You choose to tweet.
Lewis misses our agency entirely, as well as the many benefits of our connected life, and makes a comparison that relies on some hypothetical future in which everyone is so enamored with sharing their daily routine online they forget that anyone could read what they are posting. True, we as a community may have had some sacrificial lambs - those that had to go through some incredibly embarrassing experiences so we all could learn from their mistakes -- the blog post that made them unhirable, etc. But these are by far the exception, not the rule.
Erving Goffman in his luminary book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life chronicles the lives of a rural people in 1959. He shows how people have this incredible ability to act differently, or put on different 'fronts', depending on the circumstance. If we could do 'impression management' in 1959, we do it today in spades, and especially online.
People today, more than ever, are able to manage how they present themselves. Online, you can be whoever you want to be. Is this not the opposite of the world Lewis is afraid of? We need to step into the new reality -- we are what we say we are online, no less, and no more.
The next demo we had of I2I, when someone asked about privacy, I said, "Of course! You can just turn it off."