“The sale of Instagram brings a harsh reality into focus, the realization that the secret rooms or private spaces online where we can share, chit-chat and hang out with our friends are fading. The few safe havens that do exist are quickly being encroached upon or are next on the shopping list for a company like Google, Apple or Facebook. The few proposed alternatives are still in their infancy… And it is clear that our personal data and online interactions are so valuable that they are powering the Web’s future.”—
Jenna Wortham uses the sale of Instagram to raise the question, is there anywhere on the internet where we can just hang out with our friends and enjoy our privacy?
FJP: If you’re concerned about how Facebook might use all the data that Instagram collected from you (checkins, geolocation, etc.), The Next Web has an article showing you how to export your account and all that’s in it before deleting it in its entirety.
Privacy is the flip side of attention so longing for “private spaces” in an arena built on the management and valorization of attention is laughable. Furthermore the Internet - for the most part - is driven, like most media in the U.S., by advertising, so the collecting, collating and selling of any tidbit of information containing the slightest relevancy to consumption is paramount. The marketplace seldom recognizes the ethics and niceties of privacy. This NYT writer’s lament over the loss of spaces (where she can just hang out with her friends) due to the “commercialization” of the Internet sounds so clueless because every other space - physical and electronic - has been converted into a storefront. Refer to Sut Jhally’s the Factory in the Living Room (essay and video) for a thoughtful critique of the attention economy as it applies to TV but is just as applicable here. The fact that this is a NYT writer makes the piece more of a joke because the NYT has been taken over by advertiser-friendly lifestyle, entertainment and travel sections. All the consumption that fits to print.
The conversion of the Internet into a playful factory that must yield dividends isn’t new. The industrial factory commodified the physical labor of workers and now the digital factory commodifies the attention of web users - our “playful” wanderings over the Internet performed by mere fingers, eyes and consciousness is reminiscent of the strenuous physical movements of arms and legs with large machinery in industrial factories. Both produce value. Furthermore just as the crisis of industrial capital was the question of how to persuade frugal consumers to buy more than they needed - the installation of a voracious desire into consumer’s psyche – so the digital factory needs us all to pay more and more attention to more and more “images”. Where the Fordist economy thrived on endless desire the Post-Fordist digital economy lives on infinite attention to every digitized detail of life. Or what passes for life. Really not a place for privacy.