about 9 years on 2008-01-01


the impact of technology on the gradient between the ‘public sphere’ and ‘private sphere’. it will be a continuing discourse on the impact of technology on the distinction between the public and the private spheres as seen through my own personal lens as an active user and creator of relevant new technology.

which i am compelled to write because...

people like to talk about the line between that which is public and that which is private, but there really isn’t a ‘line’ so much as a constantly evolving gradient between the two extremes of full exposure and total secrecy. this gradient permeates every aspect of human interaction on personal, social, and business lines and is complicated by timing, circumstance, relationships, custom. this tension is nothing new, it could be argued that locke and mill did some of the most ‘cutting edge’ thinking on the topic several hundred years ago.

what is relatively new is the destabilizing impact of technology on the equation. mind you, ‘technology’ in the broad sense has always played a role in the discussion (the impact of the printing press must not be forgotten, nor fingerprint technology, nor the thousands of other inventions which allowed for mass organization and record management), but only in the last fifteen years has technology become the driving force in the debate. further, i would argue that unlike the other forces at play, technology is the only one which has the potential to be destabilizing to the equation.

i fundamentally believe that in many ways the greatest macro-impact on human civilization of technology - the full gambit based on ever expanding storage capacity (the ability to collect information) and computing power (ability to synthesize information) - will really be ultimately recognized as its impact on the nature of public and private. what i want to explore in this blog is exactly this issue, where the line sits and how it is evolving, both in the content i write, and through the simple act of writing with this issue in mind.

i am not a fanatic in any camp. i am a heavy user and enormous advocate of social networking and location based services. i remember card-catalogues and think that algorithmic search in general, and google specifically, is one of the greatest inventions in history. i have personally created at least three scale projects (lifecapital in 2001– peer to peer equity investments for individuals, crimsonxchange in 2003 – harvard limited localized auction environment, kinjunction 2005 – private family network) which either push forward or leverage greater information transparency. the productivity gains which will be derived from the full integration of information technology are truly staggering (despite all, the market still doesn’t fully get it), and the social gains can be very great as well.

at the same time, last august i left bain & company to start drop.io, a company which deliberately marches in the opposite direction, helping individuals simply carve out flexible private space which is un-networked and not searched. i think there are enormous risks to de-facto total transparency in society. setting aside that i think that individuals and organizations have a fundamental right to privacy, i truly believe that the very long-term impact of an incredible level of transparency may actually be very negative on social, political, and economic terms. much more on this over time.

what does that mean i will write about? my friends will tell you that i see and think about this issue in almost everything…so it is going to be broad. but just for a taste i will write about things like, my reaction to playing with the location-enabled google maps for the first time last night, both the positive and negative implications. new it-startups and their practical and theoretical impact on the public/private landscape. my own company, drop.io, and the features we are releasing as they relate to the topic. political matters in the us and abroad which shape the legal regime in which this debate evolves from national id cards to access to search engine logs. how my use of and engagement with ‘social networks’ (in the digital sense) is evolving, etc. this blog will be a continuing discourse on the impact of technology on the distinction between the public and the private spheres as seen through my own personal lens as an active user and creator of relevant new technology.

on how i will be writing

there are a few bullet points which i want to put out immediately on how this blog will be written/what it will be written about.

1. this is not a blog about drop.io – i spend an inordinate amount of time working on and thinking about drop.io, and it is highly relevant, so i will discuss it often, but nothing i say in this blog is corporate policy nor should this blog be read with drop.io alone in mind

2. this blog will be very deliberate. by this i mean that anything i write here i am intending for a mass audience, of friends, co-workers, family, competitors, etc. i am, as i am sure you can see, hyper sensitive to what this means. i will likely omit names unless i have explicit permission to include them (which i will rarely if ever ask for). obviously anything that i am working, friends are working on, or i am told about in confidence, i will keep confidential. but, further still i will steer away from making any statements that would compromise a competitive advantage explicitly or simply a blinding insight a friend is using.

3. i will not be disclosing any conflicts of interest which may or may not exist, unless i feel like it. many bloggers choose total transparency, real journalists are forced to, but i will be experimenting with zero transparency for the sake of transparency.

4. i am writing this blog for the personal rigor of it, but i am also writing as a form of self-promotion and, by osmosis, promotion for drop.io.

original swl blogposts and letters 2007-2010