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This morning I posted an excerpt on Slow Painting from a New York Times article, Yours for the Peeping. Penelope Green reports on the new trend of glass apartment buildings with little or no concern for privacy, from pedestrians on the street to the residents in the spaces themselves. I have been thinking about her article ever since I read it on Sunday morning. It nags at me.

Much has been written about the generation now coming of age and the shift towards a collective sense of unselfconsciousness. Because of inexpensive and ubiquitous video cameras, digital photography that is virtually disposable, and tell-it-all sites like Facebook and YouTube the argument goes, the Net Generation has adopted an uncensored, “living out loud” style of communicating.

Like most trends that are skewed along generational lines, there is more going on than a simple “response to technology” story line. The changes all of us have seen in the way we live our lives now—private vs. public persona, the rise in voyeurism coupled with a rise in exhibitionism, transparency vs. secrecy, TMI (too much information) vs. the edited, succinct response, the drive for connection as well as the need to be alone, the difference between who we are online and who we are in rl (real life), communities and what they mean, both real and virtual—there are many issues that can be discussed in relation to the rise of UC me/ICU apartment buildings in New York City.

Local luminary and passionate observer of all things online, Sherry Turkle of MIT has written at length about the ongoing implications of these themes. I admired her years ago when she was one of the few academics to endorse MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role-playing games.) Her argument: Many MIT students are socially challenged, and role playing games teach them important social skills. (I believed her.) She saw value in many of the trends that others were too quick to criticize.

But lately she seems to have become a bit more cautious. She recently described the hallway scene at a recent conference on robotics:

In the hallway outside the plenary session attendees are on their phones or using laptops and pdas to check their e-mail. Clusters of people chat with each other, making dinner plans, “networking” in that old sense of the term–the sense that implies sharing a meal. But at this conference it is clear that what people mostly want from public space is to be alone with their personal networks. It is good to come together physically, but it is more important to stay tethered to the people who define one’s virtual identity, the identity that counts. I think of how Freud believed in the power of communities to control and subvert us, and a psychoanalytic pun comes to mind: “virtuality and its discontents.”

Turkle talks about other hidden costs. For example, she sees a possible connection between a lack of concern about the government’s citizen spying and the willingness to tell all online:

High school and college students give up their privacy on MySpace about everything from musical preferences to sexual hang-ups. They are not likely to be troubled by an anonymous government agency knowing whom they call or what Web sites they frequent. People become gratified by a certain public exposure; it is more validation than violation.

My proclivity is to minimize differences between my children’s generation and my own. But the place where we have the least amount of overlap is privacy. I crave it. I need it like sleep and food. And I have to have it on my terms. Is this correlated with my rage at a government that spies on its citizens?

Turkle makes another point:

The virtual life of Facebook or MySpace is titillating, but our fragile planet needs our action in the real. We have to worry that we may be connecting globally but relating parochially.

This observation is not aimed at just the younger generation. More and more of our lives is lived in that meta state of online, and the center of gravity is shifting for all of us. I don’t have a definitive position or answers to what this all means. But it does matter that we are observing these changes and that we can discuss the implications. As an rl painter, with a dependence on rl widgets like art supplies, a studio space, galleries and patrons, I want to be clear and precise about what in this world is worth fighting for.