Have you no shame?

A friend sent me Emily Nussbaum’s trenchant piece Say Everything from New York magazine’s February 12th issue.

Nussbaum’s piece is a lovely look at the generation gap, but I think she’s wrong about tech having replaced music as the demarcator of generational behavior. In fact, her article evokes “La Dolce Viva,” a piece about one of Warhol’s starlets that New York ran back in 1968. Tech hasn’t killed shame; it’s just made it easier for lots of people to know you’re young and stupid.

Nussbaum makes what is essentially an anthropological argument that because tech is so widespread, concepts like shame and privacy have become defamiliarized. In fact, it seems to me that younger people spend more time creating things for MySpace and YouTube simply because they can, not because they’re less moral than the generations that preceded them. Broadband is the main reason why Paris Hilton’s home sex tapes are more notorious than Pamela Anderson’s were (and they’re not that much more notorious). The youth in Say Everything have nothing on Karen Finley, the performance artist.

It reminds me of the Twain comment on murder: If the desire to kill and the opportunity to kill came always together, who would escape hanging? (thanks to www.twainquotes.com).

Kids today have the opportunity to post pretty much anything they desire on the Web. They’re going to. That’s not new.

But I’ve read with interest a series of articles about a local state representative, Scott Brown, who spiced things up at a local high school when he read verbatim posts from places like MySpace about his family (his daughter is former American Idol contestant Ayla Brown). Brown did not delete the expletives, and he named the authors, and people were embarrassed. The fallout – the school wants an apology — has been going on for several weeks now. I’ll bet at least some of the kids he named have changed their posting habits. And what about those kids who feel offended and betrayed when their parents read their online posts? That sounds like people who haven’t figured out that posting is public, not people who’ve lost their sense of shame.

Nussbaum argues for a certain vision of a personal media society, one in vogue in tech circles now. But the future is likely to get both more personal and more private, along the lines of what Michael Dertouzis envisioned back in the 1990s. Why wouldn’t people shift toward putting their most revealing moments on chips embedded in cell phones or wallets or glasses or clothes or even implanted in some part of their bodies, something they control access to?

It’s also inevitable that jamming technologies will be developed, be they cloaking or blocking or biometric passwords or what have you (for an example, see Limor Fried’s MIT master’s thesis; the abstract is here).

There is also the assumption that stuff will stay online forever, as if the Web is some sort of open-ended, endlessly searchable attic. Sure, storage is cheap. But will it make sense even for Google to store personal stuff for 20 years or 50 years? Yes, there is the Wayback machine, but what if MySpace becomes unprofitable?

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