Jeff Jarvis reveals his Public Parts

Jeff Jarvis is an unabashed optimist.

He acknowledged massive changes brought on by the Internet – likening this era to the early days of the Gutenberg Press – and said we need to embrace publicness.

Publicness, he explained is putting it out there, letting it all hang out.

Right now you’re probably cringing, thinking about how to reset your Facebook and Google+ privacy settings so that the unknown student in India doesn’t see those pics of your son in little league.

And that’s a natural reaction to change, Jarvis pointed out during the launch of his book Public Parts Friday night at a Third Tuesday meetup.

He talked about the introduction of the Gutenberg press, and the use of the Kodak camera, and people were first most concerned about their privacy.

“It’s important when we have change we worry about the bad things that can happen, but it’s also important to realize what good can happen,” Jarvis said.

“Privacy matters. It’s important, it needs protection. But we are talking so much about privacy that I have a fear about publicness. That’s why I wrote this book.

Jarvis spoke of the opportunity the Internet – and its publicness – and how he sees the benefits of sharing:

  • It enables us to make connections, improves relationships. It Gets rid of the idea of ‘stranger’
  •  It brings out the wisdom of a crowd (think Wikipedia)
  • It enables trust
  • It enables collaboration, making connections, do things you wouldn’t do
  •  It enables us to organize ourselves

Jarvis didn’t say we should throw everything out there (A lot of our lives are actually quite banal, he points out).

But we need to decide as individuals what information we want to spread. Jarvis, for example, blogged about his prostate cancer.  That’s going public, he said to laughter.

“I told the world about my penis, even worse when my penis doesn’t work.”

Though intensely personal, the posts provided an “incredible benefit:” people came to him with information and advice.

Jarvis was criticized for going too far, for “over sharing.”

Really, Jarvis said, his critic was “over listening.”

“Over sharing is in mind of beholder – over sharing is having shared what you wish you hadn’t shared.”

While nothing should be shared without consent, Jarvis said that more information needs to be made public.

“You have an ethical decision to make about sharing. If this could help someone else, why not share it?”

“The real reason we don’t share our sicknesses is stigma, why is there a stigma about being sick?” Jarvis asked. We would learn more as a society if we disclosed our health issues, allowing people to track where illness is, etc.

This is the wrong time to regulate the internet, Jarvis said. At the end of the book, he said, he felt the need nominate some key principles:

  • We have the right to connect
  •  We have the right to assemble and to act
  • Privacy is an ethic of knowing
  • Publicness is an ethic of sharing
  • Our institutions’ information should be public by default, and secret by necessity
  •  What is public is a public good
  • All bits are created equal
  •  The internet must stay open and distributed

“The Internet is not a medium. Medium infers its packaged and controlled. It’s not. The Internet is Times Square. The Internet is life, life with all the bozos. We have to take it as it is.

“Yes, we may have to update laws, but not too soon or too radically. We see people using it for good, and we’ll adjust to see the better of it.”

People, Jarvis said, are smart enough to figure it out. There are 800-million people on Facebook, and we are there because we want to connect, he said.

An audience member pointed out that the Internet also allows people to connect for negative reasons, like the sharing of child pornography.

“Can bad people get together and do bad things? Yes,” Jarvis said.

“But people can also organize and do good things.”

(Note: As expected, I got a lot out of Jarvis’ talk. Next up: Jarvis’ thoughts on media)

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