Live in Infamy


Hamza Shaban in New Inquiry:

A friend’s lens captures a tipsy top-shot revealing too much flesh. Or the camera catches the vacant stare of a bro’s pickled pupils, and the picture taker might mockingly pronounce, “I’ll save this when you run for office!” The joke, playfully cynical, drifts dangerously close to a cliff of paranoia. That much of what we digitally compose remains permanently archived, and that we only vaguely recognize the consequences of this, plays neatly into the narrative peddled by some in Silicon Valley—that privacy no longer exists. Zuckerberg’s Law, a convenient trend-as-truth whereby we volunteer evermore information about our intimate livings yearns to become an ethical imperative. The act of revealing rushes with unceasing momentum, unmooring our reservations of exposure. As sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has written, “The fear of disclosure has been stifled by the joy of being noticed.”

By now we’ve been trained to record only those behaviors that reflect well on ourselves, lest our employers interpret our cocktail-crushing prowess the wrong way. But Facebook’s privacy settings are clumsy and easy to circumvent. Elsewhere, blog posts, life-tracking data, consumer preferences, and check-in beacons can just as easily be ripped from their context and misdirected to an unintended audience – and meanwhile, the social networks, publishing platforms and shopping hubs just keep multiplying. For those young people interested in running for office, this poses considerable danger.

To some, the Facebook timeline reads as an explicit chronology of illicit behavior. For most, these personality museums are masterfully curated, conveying an exuberance tamed by professionalism, edginess blunted by responsibility. While we are generally aware of the risks involved in divulging personal information, the popular conception is that our norms of exposure will change. Through mass-unveiling, salacious behavior will become bland.