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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Review of “National Identities and Communications Technologies” by Mark Poster

In this article Poster examines the process of globalization through the lens of culture. He is specifically interested in examining how cultural globalization and digital mediums intersect with the nation-state’s competencies.

Decentralized networks have existed in some fashion or another for decades, but the Internet is more developed than the telephone or any other analogue system because it avoids circuit-switched technologies and private ownership. Whereas the telephone was limited in the number of people that could be simultaneously broadcast to, the Internet is designed for mass communication and is insensitive to the loss of particular nodes. As a facet of the digital environment all information on the ‘net has the advantage “virtually costless copying, storing, editing, and distribution” (235).

A central element of Poster’s argument is his distinction between analogue and digital cultural artifacts – analogue artifacts exist in a particular jurisdiction and, as a result of being material constructs, are inherently challenging to duplicate. In contrast, digital artifacts are inherently designed to be shared. Digitized items’ duplicability causes them to escape the laws that traditionally protect cultural items – culture is currently undergoing a shift from the status of being precious, rare, and protected to the status of being precious, common, and naturally unprotected by their digital form. Moreover, the ease of transferring digital cultural items across jurisdictions limits the nation-state’s ability to stem the flow of culture, subsequently preventing the nation-state from developing a localized national culture. Poster notes that on the Internet,

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Review of “Making Technology Democratic” by Richard E. Scolve

One of the central issues facing democratic societies is that technology is outpacing the regulatory powers of politics and ethics. Ethicists are involved towards the end of product design – they are used to evaluate how to ‘spin’ ethical implications rather than developing normative frameworks that ensure that only ethical technologies are developed. Ethics, in this situation, identify something that is good, rather than something that is right. Politics act as a terminal regulatory point – while they legislate laws that are intended to guide the kinds of technological research, as politics are subjugated to money their ability to legitimately influence research diminishes

Scolve, writing in the mid-90s, recognized that a series of challenges stood before technologically inclined societies. In particular, he was concerned that if new technologies’ social effectswere not taken accounted for productivity would likely increase and be supplemented with corresponding declines in “political engagement, attenuation of community bonds, experiential divorce from nature, individuals purposelessness, and expanding disparities of wealth” (87). In the face of these damaging political effects we must broaden technological agendas to account for technologies’ possible effects on social and political fields – we must ultimately situate long-term democratic publicity ahead of fulfilling short-term economic objectives.

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