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The Row Boat
"Had we but world enough, and time..." *
Spying Revisited (regarding weblogs)8/10/2006 16:10:54
This week one of the big troubles in my mother's life is that in a small arts organization she leads, there has been an issue of privacy. The group hosted an event at the home of an art collector, and during it, one of the members took pictures (with permission) of the home which she then put up on her weblog (without permission). Now the woman whose house it was is up in arms, as are is a number of the old guard of the membership. They consider this utterly unprofessional behavior and expect my mother to dismiss the blogger from the organization, even though the pictures were immediately removed from the site when the issue erupted.
When I heard the story it sounded deeply familiar, like something I've seen and something I've done, a part and parcel of the world these weblogs have created. It inevitably makes a writer into a spy, observing and reporting on things seen and heard, on friends, and on rumors. And who is the spy's audience but strangers, far away friends, prowling webbots, or no one. A newspaper reporter, for instance, has to keep within the professional bounds of the subject matter and form required by the paper. But nearly by definition in the weblog culture, every subject and experience is germane, presented in any form.
Legitimized blog voyeurism creates in the author an odd sensation of identity and social network: the people trusted the most are the anonymous ones, while it is those one sees every day that are being spied on. Real life is configured as enemy territory!
I have written already on the theological interest of modern surveillance. Here is an earlier posting of mine on spying. This special category of weblog spying is of a common sort, similarly relevatory of how our ideas about public and private domains are evolving, which of course has consequences for moral expectations.
It could be said that we live in an open society and a closed one. Which depends on perspective, the glass full or empty. I think it could go either way.
Moving toward an open society, this sort of behavior might reflect a desire for a total, eschatological openness, the Edenic end of private property and with it privacy. It is the ultimate social expression of organic democracy. It is chaotic, but perhaps blessedly so.
Alternatively, in a world that is closed, deeply trapped in property rights, the voyeur is a rebellious reveler. In this case, against the absurd instance of treasures of art cooped up in a private collection for nobody but a handful of people to benefit from. I have felt this sensation of reveling, for instance when filming a movie in an airport, or drawing pictures of people sitting at cafes. Doing these things is an incredible closeness for me, a thrilling resistance against a society that resists closeness for the sake of efficiency.
I am not insisting that this photographer had any of these motives particularly, but I do think this is a cluster of tendencies worth observing.
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