Public yet private, private yet public

Learnt a new word last week. Cyber-shaming. Not that I hadn’t been aware of the act itself of posting online some stories and images of annoying strangers. Well, we Koreans invented it for that matter. Have you heard of the ‘dog poop girl‘? You might be sneering now, but I am afraid there was nothing funny about the incident. It raised various issues including the reasonable expectation of privacy, Internet vigilantism, and the danger of citizen journalism. I don’t know about the practice here or elsewhere, but it is now a legal requirement in Korea that any camera phone should be designed and produced to make a loud ‘click’ sound every time they take a snap, in order to prevent victims of unconsented photography.

In fact, it’s not just annoying encounters that bloggers write about. As Bill Thompson points out, indiscretion is often forgiven in a blogged world because the limits on how widely we should share the things we see, hear or learn have not yet been agreed. Or will they ever be?

In a general interpretation, the Internet and other new ICTs seem to be redrawing the public/private boundary, if such exists at all. As not only an intensive user but also a researcher, my specific interest lies in the enduring question whether the Web itself is a public space or a private one. An important question for me because it is directly related to the defination of authorship of anonymous, pseudonymous, or incompletely attributed online texts, which I intend to gather for later analysis. Inspired by Waskul and Douglass (1996), who argue that “online texts are both publicly private and privately public” (The Information Society 12(2): 129-139), my current standpoint is that the Web is like a giant public toilet. (An apology for a not-so-elegant theme running through today.) If so, when no information is available on the writers of particular texts, which may presumably be the case where the writers have chosen to remain anonymous, the texts will be regarded as ‘graffiti’ and be treated in the ways they have been treated in the previous literature on graffiti studies, i.e. texts will be collected verbatim and without the acknowledgment of their authors if they are not traceable. Otherwise, authors will be contacted for consent when their material is quoted in my thesis. Further theoretical refinement will follow shortly.

5 thoughts on “Public yet private, private yet public

  1. Your invocation of graffiti in this case is an interesting one, if – as you say – somewhat inelegant. Your regular readers look forward to the theoretical refinement you have promised us.


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