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re:publica 2015 – Zygmunt Bauman: From Privacy to Publicity

re:publica 2015 – Zygmunt Bauman: From Privacy to Publicity


(Zygmunt Bauman) You don’t have to stand for me,
thank you. Time is very expensive. So let’s stop applauding and let’s think
about the problem we are confronted with. There are two sides to this problem. You can see huge billboards
which remind us about human rights. They were composed by people
from all over Europe after the war. They declare the human rights.
Privacy is a human right for everyone. This is one side of the problem.
The other side, to quote David Brooks in the New York Times from 15 April. The article is called
“The Lost Language of Privacy”. He wants to bring the notion
of privacy close it contemporary people. More and more people
have lost even the language of privacy and an understanding
of why privacy is important. That is the diagnosis.
We have forgotten why privacy is important. Privacy means dedicating emotions
without being charged by the public. To date we do this on the internet.
Individuals have gained the right to individuality. And we have lost concern about privacy. All of you are holding an iPhone or iPad.
You stopped being alone. It is a paradox. At the hotel, were I’m accommodated,
there is a big slogan: Stay individual. Inside you can see this idea as well. There is a huge billboard
where it states in beautiful calligraphy what it means to be an individual.
It says roughly: Do, whatever you like. And do it more often. That is a recipe for being an individual.
We are not finding a place among other likings. Being alone, talking to oneself. So we are living
in this paradox of our times. Let’s think for a moment
how we have arrived where I am now. I am older that than all of you here.
I remember, when I was your age, we were dreaming about privacy, afraid of being constrained,
being told what we have to do. We were spied upon.
You remember George Orwell’s 1984, were the television set
was a two-way communication device. That was the horror of the time. Today we benefit from
that two-way communication via Skype or Twitter. You like your credit card,
you like using your telephone. All the time you know,
that all this creates big data in some places, where the data is accumulated is
in a server somewhere in the desert. Your preferences
and contacts are stored there. People you are associated with.
We don’t even know how much data about us is stored. Now we are dreaming about publicity. One journalist in France joked,
that we needed proof for our living, we should now say I am seen at a screen,
and therefore I am. The idea of privacy has changed. In the past, doing what you want
and to do it without being suppressed was a great idea. Almost 100 years ago, it was stated
that all the pain of individuals comes from the fact that we have surrendered our freedom of choice
in order to get more security. The idea of privacy is now associated
not with the idea of being free and individual, but with being alone,
abandoned and neglected. That is the price of reversing a tendency.
We are now surrendering. We would like to surrender much of our freedom
for the sake of a little bit more security. Why so? Another great German thinker, Ulrich Beck,
developed a theory of individualisation. This is what separates
1929 from 2015. Individualisation. Everyone of us is an individual. As such, he is expected to find,
develop and apply solutions to socially developed problems. Not the government, which has to produce
the solutions to all that problems of its people. Something that is given to us
has to be transformed into individual tasks. That means not being aware
what kind of next step should be taken, there are a lot of more suspicions grounded
and therefore you need something from there. I would say that the fear
of overcaring, overinterfering and overbearing state was the nightmare
of my generation when I was a young person, has been replaced by the fear
of being left to your own resources and incapable
of selecting properly your life, knowing what you need to do
and to achieve and to secure yourself
a different place is to be signed. In the time when the governments
promised full employment, not keeping it promises but making
the promises and considering it an achievable purpose, we allow in the time – not unemployment,
that is confirming of the normality of employment. Normal life means having a not only promised
but sustained place in society to stay, I am needed. There must be a place in society
and the very word “unemployed” by adding this “un” to “employment”, that signals
that unemployment is unnormality, it is an illness and something
has to be done against unemployment. The idea of redundancy
what is used instead in the public language now doesn’t suggest
such a reform cure on the social element. We are adjusting ourself
later in a very hard way of the ability of becoming
one of the redundant people. Fear of excluse. We are not rebelling against
overbearing state, we are neglecting today against the ignore,
against being neglected and against being unseen. That is where computers come in,
computerization of the world, internet, it is like a magic wand. It enables you in a part of a day
where you are not speaking to other human beings, but talking to the screen with others.
At that time you are escaping. At least it seems so, to eventually escape
this threat of being alone. You don’t remember,
you are too young, you remember when the first electronic gadget
was introduced, that Walkman was introduced
by the slogan “never again alone”. I don’t know who produced the slogan,
but it spoke to the inner fear. You can act one way,
you could listen to it. Then came the genius Mark Zuckerberg,
who went one step further. Facebook.
In Facebook you are never alone. Really never alone. 24 hours a day,
7 day a week, what you can do is to send a twitter, send a message,
there is always 24 hours a day, 7 days a week someone somewhere
who is ready to receive a message. You don’t need to have a neighbour –
through internet there is always someone who will respond. So they will be supressed, by what? By the fact, that we are a collection
of loners who are constantly in touch. There is nobody who is lonely,
if you are sitting with your friends, at parties, I watched it many times,
if the situation became less interesting, they are making the way into the company,
then you can always escape the place by connecting, by the magical wand of connect.
Instead of communities which supress and tell you what to do
and watch you carefully and interfere when you behave not
in the way you should do things. There is a big difference
between community, Gemeinschaft, network. If community has you,
you belong there! You have your network. Your network belongs to you,
that is reversal of the situation. Unlike community, which is just there, you have a network, which is sustained
in being by two activities, connecting and disconnecting. You can always connect, and it is easy now,
without any traffic you can contact other people, and at the same time,
if you don’t find them much to your liking, not opening the horizon,
not giving much satisfaction, one move of your finger, you can always delete
the list of friends and exclude from uhm – the network which you composed
and you are recomposing all the time. That is the first great gate.
The eventual escape from this nightmare of being left alone. But there is also
another very great benefit. The benefit of escaping from the, well,
conviction or sealing of being unimportant person, on being not particularly important. At the moment,
when identitiy has become a task, now it became the task,
which you have to perform. Once that happened much of our activity, whether we call it that way or not,
is a wall for recognition. You want to be recognized. We want to get recognition. You can measure that everyday,
whatever you put on the internet or a website, there is “like” attached – you can measure
how many people have seen you, and so on. So you are seen. And entering the public seeing is now available to eventually everybody
who has some electronic gadget. It is not any longer the matter
that it was several years ago. The board of television companies,
you have the division of the camera on your face, that represents something,
that enters the right of becoming knowledge by public knowledge. Now you have selfie.
Each one of us can put selfies on the screen, in every pose and condition,
we have direct short cut to this. All these gates are eventual gates,
we are living in two universes, one is the online universe
and the other universe we live in, is the offline universe. They are different universes.
The rules of contact, distinguishing the wrong
and right things are strongly different. But there is always
from the hardship, dificulties, inconvenience and discomfort which negotiate
human relationships in offline worlds, you can always escape from this,
thanks for the other alternative and Mark Zuckerberg has done
that very well on this promotion of the new phenomena social website,
made billions of that. He just puts his finger
on the elements – fear of being alone, fear of being not accepted,
not recognized and not being an important matter to other people. You can compare the situation
which was created by the continuous process of individualization. Well but, but uh – at least forgetting about it,
stop worrying about. According to the latest research, the average person today
spends up to 9 hours a day in front of an electronic gadget or the screen,
that is a lot of time in the online world. That is the the instant respite
from daily live. So that is probably, I suggest here the deepest
cause of privacy losing its attractiveness as we, David Brooks pointed out,
we are forgetting the meaning of privacy, the need of privacy
and the language of privacy. We are using a formed language,
simplified language, which is the language
of our communications through internet. You are speaking about what you are doing,
you are using the expression of surfing, that is on the surface,
you are not diving in, you are just moving, moving in a hurry,
because you know there are millions of websites that are waiting for your attention,
but you miss the opportunity, the number of opportunities is infinite. In one day, the information is on the internet,
the internet is million times greater than the absorbing ability
of human being. So the cut is out of the question,
but stopping by is a dangerous situation and not many people accept it.
So I am talking about that division. This has been described many times
in scholarly studies. Fact is, the number of families who gather
everyday at the dinner table, has diminished. The progress is only growing.
Offline social contacts are weakening. They are unsustainable.
Online contacts don’t have any long-time social commitment. At the same time there is the incredibly fat
increasing number of virtual contact. This creates a new void around us.
This is continuing. So what is the nature
of the connections which we establish on the internet? A very witty observer said:
Before we were gossiping over the fence with neighbours
about other neighbours. Now we are gossiping
with strangers about other strangers. The strangers you are
gossiping about are celebrities. Persons who are known
for being well-known. This is the contemporary
replacement of the former fame. This was awarded to heroes
who won great battles or created something. Now instead of fame
the problem is popularity. Being known. Most of the time you cannot judge
whether the notoriety is deserved or not. The managers of publicity are responsible
for making someone notorious. We live in a liquid water society.
It is constantly changing. It changes its form and shape.
Constantly. It forces us to change as well. In this kind of society,
celebrities come and go. They fit this reality very well.
We are living in the moment. Our contemporary culture is not a culture of learning,
but the culture of forgetting. You have to be ready
to absorb new information and put aside information
which was important yesterday. Today, you need to make room in your interest
for a new important topic. The celebrities are also very well fitting
into contemporary scene. Because they
don’t need long-term contact. It is much better to engage
and establish common interest when talking about people who are of common interest.
They don’t know anything about you or your existence. It is a much more convenient stand
to talk about real people. You can even have simultaneous contact
with different celebrities. They don’t mind. So the celebrities have replaced
heros of the past in concentrating condensed interest. They are engaging human concern. Well …
I mentioned already what happened in Berlin. Next to the slogan “Stay individual”
there is also another slogan: “Stay entertained”. Celebrities provide entertainment.
We are greedy to be entertained. It is sometimes
very pleasurable to be entertained. Sometimes you can switch
to another kind of entertainment. It is always provided by celebrities.
Everybody knows about them and watches them. Everybody follows their actions. The fact, that they are sold
as being very much like us, suffering like us, not supernatural,
brings them closer to us. It is a virtual existence. It has been normalised
in our own failings. And the last issue I would like to discuss
is the question of electronic surveillance. Despite our living in a culture of forgetting,
we are voluntarily participating in spying. We are all spies.
We all are suppliers of the product of our spying activity. CIA, Stasi …
and all the other secret services, they couldn’t even dream
about the amount of information there is today. They had to strain themselves …
(Applause) We are voluntarily participating
in the activity of universal surveillance. Michel Foucault, a very great philosopher,
developed the idea of the panopticon. It brought people together in a room
and put them under surveillance. The task of controlling people.
It was an architectural solution. So he built the tower with wings to all directions.
In these wing’s inmates are sitting. So the surveillance can watch all inmates,
but the inmates do not see what the others are doing. This would be a good
construction for schools, military barracks and other places
were surveillance is needed. This created the division
between surveillance and the surveyed. We are watched
and watchers at the same time. With consequences
no one can actually predict, the high class experts are still working
on algorithms which will allow to processing, which is amazing
to identify the information that we already supplied
through the servers of cloud internet. Whoever would like
to use them, uses them. There are the agencies who are knowing
very well with whom you are telephoning, where you took your mobile telephone,
at what time you went where. They are pushed together
and they find out that you are a vendor, which at the present moment is unwanted, and a suspect
of being potentially criminal. Someone is being accused
of committing a crime, all you want is the coincident
of being at some point at some time. At the other, where this data is used,
are commercial interests. You probably know from your own praxis
whenever you open your internet, you see commercials, not just commercials,
but commercials made especially for you. Whenever I see the advertisement,
like in amazon there is recommended advertisement. They take care of me. So nevertheless,
what I wanted to tell you, as I said it was all simplified
because of the matter of time. The conclusion is that we keep
repeating at a time – not at our choice, it happened that we have been born
in time of interactive – that is the name of the direction.
We are not working probably any longer, but it is more up to resolve the technic problems.
This is the time where we are. When you are at this time, you make predictions,
pretending that the future is already overdetermined and you can tell clearly, where it is bringing us.
Now making up predictions is very irresponsible. What is needed, is very close watching. We are entering
a new era in human history. I don’t think even Gutenberg
revolution, which introduced the printer and the access to the printed work
could be compared with the upheaval by the appearance of the universally available, attainable,
achievable, useable information. We shouldn’t play the role of plankton,
which is thrown here and there by the tide, but control. Self-reflect! The sociologists say
the contempotrary phase of modernity is reflexive modernity, so we need to be self-reflecting
about the consequences of the products. Anticipating and motivating,
side effects, collateral casual, that is my personal trivia,
I think that we are far from being reflexive enough. We are doing things
but don’t think about that very much. With this word of warning
I’d like to thank you for your attention. (Applause)

2 thoughts on “re:publica 2015 – Zygmunt Bauman: From Privacy to Publicity

  1. It is interesting how the confessionalist nature of the religion has been replaced with the confessionalist nature of social media, and how privacy, which is (in my opinion) an important part of individuality and the evolution of identity. Baumann underlines this paradox, the conflict of (individuality)privacy vs. exposure.

  2. This is all from the individuals perspective the subjective..what is the narrative from the social engineers perspective …the objective…to perpetuate the status quo..which in reality is a terribly divided world..where one group consumes another.

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