Public and Private Digital Space

Ask yourself a question: Why does having private space matter to you? When it comes right down to it, why is it important to maintain the public-private distinction?

Some might immediately assert that the distinction establishes a space where government interests cannot easily intrude, and that the private domain is where individuals develop themselves while hidden from the nation-state’s coercive gaze. When we can speak privately and associate off-the-record we can more easily develop friendships that we might have otherwise shied away from. Moreover, without this private space individuals might not be comfortable talking to one another about radical political, ethical, or cultural issues – if the state could be recording our discussions, then we would have to evaluate whether or not we really wanted to discuss topics such as the value of overthrowing the present government, the importance of weakening the authorities’ scopes of legitimate action, or the value of weakening national rhetoric in favour of plurality.

While there have been clashes about where the division between public and private should be, those clashes often relate to where a line should be drawn rather than about abolishing the line entirely. Some, of course, insist that the public and private are mere phantasms, and that they only exist because we perpetuate a myths of their existence, but for this position to gain traction it must grapple with the necessary co-originality of public and private that is revealed in an examination of the nation-state’s founding. Feminists (accurately) focus on the harms that the strict division between public and private have caused, such as the suppression of women’s issues and the criminal discrimination against women and their labours, but this demonstrates that there is a porous boundary between public and private that must be examined rather than asserting that it absolutely does not exist.

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