We Live In Public.

Posted: March 16, 2012 in Communications and Technology
Tags: , , , , ,

Rheingold  (2002) writes in “Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution” that with the introduction of mobile technology that we are creating a peer-to-peer surveillance society. This is not necessarily an inherently bad thing, however, it could have many negative consequences for our society and culture.

Rheingold writes that “Orwell [author of 1984] didn’t take into account the possibility that computing and communication technologies would seduce consumers into voluntarily trading privacy for convenience” (p. 57). It reminds me of a documentary I watched recently titled We Live in Public, which documented an internet mogul’s artistic project, which was much more of a social experiment than an artistic endeavor. Josh Harris’ art project involved participants being on camera 24 hours, 7 days a week, and while watching the documentary I could see that once nothing was private – what was there to hide? Participants freely engaged in sexual acts, walked around with no clothes on, went to the bathroom and showered together. Participants were housed in a sort of “surveillance hotel” where there were cameras also mounted to watch them sleep (or enjoy each others’ company!), and they also had televisions mounted there where they could switch feeds and watch other participants. All the footage was filmed and stored and belongs to Harris. For me this brings to mind Rheingold’s thought that smart mob technologies pose three types of threats, including “[t]hreats to quality of life: [f]rom individual angst to deteriorating communities, it isn’t clear whether life in the informated society delivers convenience faster than it erodes sanity and civility [emphasis added]” (p. 65).

Critique of “Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution” by Rheingold, H. (2002):

The chapter for our week 9 reading was “Always-On Panopticon… or Cooperation Amplifier,” a chapter in “Smart Mobs” by Rheingold. It was a particularly interesting reading because it threw a twist into one of our course themes: maintaining privacy while using technology to communicate. The twist is that we are voluntarily giving this privacy away. Rheingold writes “issues of privacy today are complicated by the voluntary adoption of technologies that disclose private information to others” (p. 57). Another interesting part of the reading was the threat to quality of life that Rheingold mentions that may come hand-in-hand with extensive technology use (mentioned briefly above). Rheingold states “pervasive technology usage affects interpersonal relationships, the way individuals experience time, and the vitality of public spaces” (p. 59). Additionally, he asks “[i]f pervasive computation devices and anthropomorphic software agents lead people to confuse machines with humans, will people grow less friendly, less trusting, and less prepared to cooperate with one another” (p. 61)? While very interesting, it was also a fairly long reading and I can’t say my tired brain appreciated that very much. All in all, Rheingold is an easy author to read and think critically about.

Cover of "Smart Mobs: The Next Social Rev...

Cover of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution


Rheingold, H. (2002). Chapter 8: Always-On Panopticon… Or Cooperation Amplifier?. In Fernyhough, L. (Ed.), Comm 105: Communication and Technology. Course Package: Winter 2012, (pp. 55-71). Victoria, BC: Camosun College Bookstore. (Reprinted from Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, 183-215).

Interloper Films & Pawn Shop Creatives (Producers), & Ondi, T. (Director). (2009). We Live in Public [Motion Picture]. USA: Mongrel Media.


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