Social Media's Privacy vs Intimacy, Facebook vs Chatroulette

While the redefinition of privacy continues to engage debate amongst netizens, this current era of pushing boundaries online is on the surface somewhat of a paradox. While many feel that relinquishing data about ourselves subsequently deprives us of control (i.e. Facebook's Open Graph), there are others that are willing to relinquish control in exchange for a random form of intimacy (i.e. Chatroulette's video chat).

When the 1960's Hippie/Vietnam era of young rebels were pushing the boundaries of established rules and questioning why we followed traditions blindly, the World War generation could not comprehend what led the day's youth to think so differently. In a world where you didn't question authority, this divergent movement that was afoot was unsettling for parents and grandparents.

While viewed as deviant behavior, wasn't it really just another period of time when humans were willing to expose themselves more publicly then they had done so in the past. Was an unjustified war the catalyst for transforming the existing zeitgeist of the day - and with that slap of reality - did it not call for a new order?

Similarly in somewhat less turbulent times one could ask if today's technologies are changing our worldview.Marshall McLuhanMarshall McLuhan When Marshall McLuhan, the controversial communications theorist of the 60's told us that "medium is the message, and that the tools we shape later shape us," could the rebellion against opposing factions in his era be similar as to what is being played out on the social media landscape?

Celia FarberCelia FarberWhile we fight to preserve our privacy on one social network, Chatroulette according to American activist and journalist Celia Farber in a thought-provoking feature titled, An Internet With No Walls, "allows all peoples of the world to chat, but one in eight 'spins' (according to Wikipedia) yields a 'penis or other possibly objectionable objects.'"

Farber believes the reason for Chatroulette was based more on a human need versus depravity. She feels that the 17 year-old Russian founder Andrey Ternosvskiy was totally naive as to the pornographic Andrey TernovskiyAndrey Ternovskiycapabilities of his technological advancement. From Farber's perspective, she sees the young entrepreneur as representative of his era - a young lonely soul who was spiritually and emotionally desperate to communicate with people from other cultures.

And in so doing, he broke down the Internet's walls, coding "a medium that more or less goes against every conventional definition of media as we know it. Media has walls. Media keeps people out, or at least sorts them very carefully" noted Farber. Referencing McLuhan, Farber believes social media is evolving similarly to the traditional media of the past. For whatever walls we build to gain security and comfort, our inherent claustrophobia soon emerges and prompts us to tear them down.

Mark Zuckerberg while dealing in the much more structured environment of Facebook is conducting himself similarly. Scaling to 500 million users, he broke the boundaries of his walled garden and introduced us to an Open Graph permitting our digital tentacles to reach out across the Internet where we could label our demographic-defining preferences with something as simple as a LIKE button. And the sacrifice to its users was the relinquishment of privacy as we once knew it.

According to McLuhan, media does not simply take way - while it robs us of one thing, it enhances us in equal measure with something else. The paradox of 'isolation' and 'information' live hand in hand on the Internet. It mimics the 'real world' in that many of us have an inherent need to connect with others. According to Farber, this is what Ternovskiy at his young age knew intuitively. "He coded his way out of his own isolation, for his generation, who were being offered essentially nothing in the Baby Boomer 'media' world."

Meeting someone randomly on a video chat social network and having the opportunity to engage or disengage (or 'nexting' in Chatroulette parlance) is empowering. Farber describes it as "seeking warmth, in any form, however it is offered - distraction at any cost."

So while 'privacy' and 'intimacy' on the surface appear to be at polar opposites on the human spectrum, I think the new medium of social media is a way to allow many to bridge the gap. If the medium is the message, then it is incumbent on all of us to help shape that message - just as was tried in the 60s and what will be tested a hundred years from now. As part of the human condition - it's a work in progress.

Sep 13, 2010
by Anonymous


Hi Ron,

Just tweeted you on this - would love to get your thoughts on we just put it live. Addresses the need to talk and the privacy angle.

Drop me a line if you like at

Great post.