Private Conveyance

Bill-newby L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

While it may astound young people to hear it, many older people are still adjusting to the presence and use of the internet. Likely it is the combination of the advent of “word processing” and the “information highway” that causes the bewilderment. These were astounding technological advances at the time; the two were so overwhelming that they became melded into one gigantic change. It requires refinement of thinking to distinguish the “processing” element of the internet from the “information” aspect of the internet. It is for example one thing to be able to compose and send a text message or email to someone; it is quite another to know that depending upon the forum used the entire world may be able to share it. The disorderly jumble of course arises from the very public way in which much of our otherwise private information is now paraded on the internet, social media being the paradigm.

Once one embraces popular technology it is difficult to resist the inclination that the communication of information of almost any description is within the public sphere. This however is rather like assuming that if you drive your automobile in public you are open to a running exchange of communication between you and any others on the highway. Of course this is absurd unless one were in an open landau and traveling at very low speed through a highly populated area in which case your indiscrete display virtually invites public participation.

Similarly within the vernacular of the internet, preservation of privacy is easily clouded by having an ostensibly public presence. This is especially true of individuals who maintain private web sites. The private web site is to be distinguished from the commercial web site maintained by a retail enterprise. Oddly though the more personal the web site the more inclined people are to presume public participation. Involvement in commercial web sites is generally restricted to ordering products and possibly “sharing” what are usually highly monitored testimonials. Private web sites on the other hand seem to invite nothing but public opinion. The reaction is not entirely unappreciated; after all the author of the site is proclaiming himself or herself on the new world’s stage. Further it is one of the standard features of any web site to include a “Contact” page which must be taken to have some meaning. Compared to the automobile metaphor, the contact information is quite different from the licence plate; one invites communication; the other merely identifies the proprietor.

Increasingly there is disparagement about social media. More and more people have less than positive things to say about social media. Even when the concept is translated from what has historically been the playground of youth such as Facebook and Twitter to more “adult” forums such as LinkedIn, the condemnations persist that the information is little more than self-serving and not highly informative or dependable. It makes one wonder therefore what advantage there is to the maintenance of a private web site if it is touted as a reliable resource but one is yet so wary of involvement of the public.

The driving force of technology, while it may see its initial public manifestation as mere amusement (recall Pacman for example), will invariably be productivity and utility. I expect that one day a private web site will be as common as any other household appliance but for the time being its novelty and lack of understandable purpose work to assure the ambivalence of its expression. This mustn’t however deter the engagement with technology. It takes many hours of experience to discover the personal devices and applications within the larger framework; and as long as the technology is driven by utility it will eventually be moulded in such a way to satisfy that career. Cultivating the individuality and uniqueness of a private web site will hopefully raise the character and quality of the private web site above the inanity of what one sees so regularly on social media. The tenor of conversation on a private web site must distinguish it from other public forums. It is after all a private conveyance not a bus.