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However, that’s the kindest reading, the passive ignorance of being on the giving side of a power relation. Hitchens is also, quite flagrantly, someone who enjoys using the privilege of being powerful to do violent things on people who aren’t, be they the Muslim women whose sartorial choices he gets to dictate or the Iraqi people whose invasion he gets to enjoy. Which is where we get to Zuckerberg, whom this quote reveals to be not only oblivious to why people might choose to control how much the world gets to see of them but actively hostile to it (something facebook’s actions demonstrate as well). “Radical transparency,” as these people put it, means opening everyone up to everyone else’s surveillance, but that’s precisely the opposite of a democratizing move if the underlying power relations remain, as they certainly do.

After all, why is it that people want to control their privacy? It isn’t so much that people want to “hav[e] a different image for your work friends or co-workers,” as he sort of innocuously puts it; it’s not an issue of choice for people who need to have a different image for their boss than the one they have in real life. The less the people who sign your paycheck know about you, after all, the less they know that you’re not simply a simple worker-drone toiling away in their sugar fields, and that can be an urgent thing in a time where everyone who works for someone else could be replaced at any time. But even the less dire firewalls we try to build in our lives are fundamentally about asserting our ability to choose; we hide things from our friends and family to the extent we fear they’ll disapprove and make that disapproval meaningful by intervening. We compartmentalize not because we’re split between different notions of ourself, but because the multitudes of identities we each contain bump up against people’s expectations that we each be a particular way.

Published: May 16 2010

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