Going public

Hiding behind the sound of running water
Hiding behind the sound of running water

We need to remind ourselves from time to time that privacy and secrecy are not the normal human condition. In fact, privacy is an invention of the 18th and 19th centuries. The rising middle-classes suddenly found themselves wealthy enough to build private houses big enough for them to retire “into the privacy of the home”, as the adage goes. Formerly this had only been the privilege of the very rich or of the aristocracy.

The notion of privacy as more than a luxury for the very few, therefore, is less than 200 years old. The rest of human history was spent in villages, where everything is known about everybody and secrets are shared but hardly ever mentioned.

Privacy, it turns out, is actually a Western concept. In India, even middle-class people are used to living in large, densely packed family units where privacy is almost completely unknown. In Japan, where the walls of rooms in the average house consist of rice paper and bamboo, any attempt to “retire into privacy” would be thought rather funny. In most Eastern societies, everyone knows and accepts that they can, at any time, become the instant focus of a large gathering of family and friends, neighbors and strangers who may wander in from the street.

The concept of an “open society”, then, is already an accepted norm in many countries of the world. Anyone who is part of such a society lives with a kind of moral reflex that says: Be aware that anything you do or say is probably already part of the public domain or can become so at a moment’s notice. Live your life accordingly.

Japan is a good practical example of this principle at work. Continue reading

Digital ethics – Big Data Analytics

As somebody pointed out to me recently, we have been running analytics on data well before somebody named a subset of all that data as ‘Big Data’.  And much analytics are undertaken on data that do not fit the ‘3Vs’ (or is it 4?) used to define Big Data.

Those nomenclature fine points don’t matter.  What does is the way that they impact people’s lives.

Perhaps the most fundamental reason for undertaking such analytics is to discriminate, Continue reading

Digital Enlightenment Forum – Discuss our digital future


The spirit of the 18th Century Enlightenment movement gives our non-profit association Digital Enlightenment Forum (DEF) the drive and inspiration to address the challenges for man and society that arise from the digital revolution that comes over us. Similar principles as were central to the debate in the Enlightenment period should again be at the basis of developing the potential that digital technology promises for the 21st century:

  • sharing of information and knowledge
  • respect for the freedom of choice of the citizen as a prerequisite for a flourishing and creative relation between humans and technology and for society as a whole
  • scientific and intellectual inquiry and open debate in service to all.

Since the establishment of DEF in 2011 we have seen a rapid development shifting the debate from individuals using new and convenient technology to the effects on these individuals and society of this technology. It is visible in the series of three DEF Yearbooks since 2012. Where the first focused on technology infrastructure and its governance, the second brought up a general discussion on personal data management in a time that data are collected practically unlimited. The latter publication was at the height of the debate on the Snowden revelations. Our Forum 2013 and the latest Yearbook took up the debate on Social Networks and Social Machines, Surveillance and Empowerment. The position of the citizen in the digital world will be the focus of our Forum 2015.

This Blog wants to strengthen the debate Continue reading