The Daily Zen #9 “Exposed & Obscured”

This (sometimes) daily march of progress continues unabated. Let us begin.

Why do people blog?

That’s a question I’ve been contemplating lately. Why do bloggers (myself included) want to spin out these yarns of ideas and expressions to mostly complete strangers? It’s a strange phenomena, although maybe it’s the most human of urges – connecting with others. I think that’s ultimately why I blog, otherwise I’d just write these thoughts in a journal and call it a day. Yet, the chance to have others read what you wrote, learn something new, maybe even have it change their mind or see something in a different light. That’s the intoxication of blogging.

Nevertheless, I find that on occasion it can be tremendously scary. You’re exposing yourself, and as more people read things you write, the more exposed you start to feel. I’ve been feeling that lately, although I think it’s probably just natural to have these fears. While I’ve gotten tremendously positive feedback on most of my writings, when you get that inevitable negative comment, it stings.

I have a personality prone to extremes on occasion, and I’ve had thoughts before of just ending the blog and quitting my Twitter account and forgetting my internet life – you could call it a digital suicide. Usually they arise from just becoming overwhelmed with things or not having time to post or those rare negative comments. However, those thoughts always pass, and I realize how great a community I’ve been lucky enough to be part of and the tremendous people I’ve met. I also realize I do have some readers that actually enjoy my posts, surprisingly enough.

Anyway, this is becoming an overly positive affirmation post that I usually find boring. I know most of these things I’ve said have been said a thousand times before. So, lets move along.

I wrote about the issue of privacy on the internet and afterwards a thought occurred to me – the notion of privacy by obscurity. Basically the idea is that people can remain private, even while exposing all of their data, if that data is obscured by being part of a very large data set. So say Comcast tracks every single TV show I watch, but then that information is only used to track the aggregate viewing habits of all of its millions of users. Does that invade my privacy? Some might say it does, but some might think at that point it’s not a big deal, because you basically become an anonymous user in Comcast’s databases. However, if Comcast were to sell that information to advertisers, who then used it to target ads directly at you, more people would feel invaded.

This gets to a comment that I saw posted by Korzdorfer on Twitter this morning, which basically was stating that people need to identify their own standards of privacy. Everyone’s standard is different, but if you are going to complain that a company is invading your privacy, you need to figure out how much privacy you expect from that company.

For myself, I subscribe, to a point, to the idea of privacy by obscurity. I don’t mind if Google uses my search data in aggregating information, as long as the data is just a point amongst millions of other users. However, I draw the line at companies exposing my data for others to easily access. That is a big issue I have with Facebook, they sometimes make their privacy settings so complex, it’s hard to tell who can and can’t see things on your profile. If a company expects you to give them personal data as part of using their service, they should give you clear and easy ways to prevent that data from being exposed to the public. Usually opt-in, as opposed to opt-out, accomplishes these goals.

Right now, I think most companies are doing a minimum amount to guard peoples’ privacy. Some, like Apple, I think do a better job than others like Google or Facebook. As I said in my earlier article on privacy, younger generations’ notions of privacy are becoming more and more relaxed, but companies can’t simply jump ahead and completely ditch all privacy. That’s the battle, how much can a company get away with before there is user backlash. I won’t remark on the morality of this practice by corporations, but it’s definitely a game they play and one that will continue. While privacy seems like it should be a black and white issue, in the 21st century it truly has become a very gray area.

Old Song of the Day: “Art of Almost” by Wilco. This song is 7 minutes, but the last few really make me love it. Enjoy.

Blue Tree Oval is a Twitter account of a man who enjoys sitting on a lawn chair, sipping martinis, and looking out over his massive estate. He exists somewhere during the 20th century and has many thoughts on many things.