The Death of Privacy & The New Publicness

Posted on 09. Mar, 2013 by in uncategorized

“Why do you blog under your real name?”

That is the #1 question I get regarding this blog. Actually, it’s #1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

The first year I blogged anonymously. My concern was that somebody would Google my name and find Expat Chronicles. I used a pseudonym so juvenile I can’t bear to repeat it.

But then one day I read What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis. The “New Publicness” chapter struck a chord:

If you’re not searchable, you won’t be found

Google defines what your web presence should be. Of course, you need a website. Who doesn’t? …

If you’re a manufacturer, customers should be able to find product details and support in an instant. If you’re a politician, voters want to know your stands and record. If you’re a food company, buyers want nutritional information. If you’re a clothing company, shoppers want you to give the information a good sales clerk would – does this run large? Where can I buy your product? How do I contact you? Your users are already telling you what they want to know. Have your web folks show you the searches people made in Google when they clicked on a link to come to you …

When I read WWGD, I had just launched an independent career. I was looking for freelance work and opportunities. I realized: IF YOU’RE NOT SEARCHABLE, YOU WON’T BE FOUND.

By that time I had written some scandalous articles. I’m not recommending everybody write sensational content. But what has it done for me? It has closed some doors, I’ve lost opportunities, no doubt. I even got fired, twice. However, I’ve also gotten offers I wouldn’t have otherwise.

One guy sold cell phones in the US, a sales whiz who ascended to the regional manager level. One of his bosses visited Bogota and was astounded by the development. He sent Sales Whiz down to set up a distributorship. The idea was to clean up on the Colombians by offering superior customer service, which doesn’t exist in Latin America. They had $100,000 behind the effort. So Sales Whiz came down to Bogota and set up near Park 93. He found my blog and immediately reached out. We started hanging out regularly. He once told me in so many words, “I don’t know where you’re going to fit into this business, but you’re going to be a part of it.”

He didn’t care about my scandalous articles. If you think a certain way, chances are somebody else does too.

I’ve received e-marketing offers from others looking to enter the Colombian market. I’ve gotten translation gigs, teaching requests, and more. It’s gotten to the point where I have to pick and choose my opportunities, which I never would’ve dreamed of in my anonymous days. So having a transparent web presence has been a net gain for me.

BLOGGING UNDER MY REAL NAME HAS BEEN A NET GAIN.

Imagine how those people who reached out would’ve felt if I had that ridiculous pen name and no photo. They wouldn’t have taken me seriously. If someone can’t find your name, picture, resume, and your LinkedIn, then you’re not just out of the game. You’re not even in the arena. You’re in the parking lot with the other nobodys.

What about getting a Good Job?

Some of you are thinking, “Colin, you don’t understand. You’re a freelancer and I’m not. I could lose my job.”

If your employer will fire you for what you wrote on your blog, then you probably don’t have a good job. In fact, that should tell you that you’re expendable.

From Seth Godin’s Linchpin:

If you want a job where you are treated as indispensable, given massive amounts of responsibility and freedom, expected to expend emotional labor, and rewarded for being human, not a cog in the machine, then please don’t work hard to fit into the square-peg job you found on Craigslist.

If you need to conceal your true nature to get in the door, understand that you’ll probably have to conceal your true nature to keep that job. This is the one and only decision you get to make. You get to choose. You can work for a company that wants indispensable people, or you can work for a company that works to avoid them.

Are you wearing a mask in public? For that kind of company / job? Why?

If you actually work for an organization that insists you be mediocre, that enforces conformity in all its employees, why stay? What are you building? The work can’t possibly be enjoyable or challenging, your skills aren’t increasing, and your value in the marketplace decreases each day you stay there. And if history is a guide, your job there isn’t as stable as you think, because average companies making average products for average people are under huge strain.

In most non-cog jobs, the boss’s biggest lament is that her people won’t step up and bring their authentic selves to work.

Are you a cog? It’s fine if you are, but don’t ask me why I blog under my real name. Because I am not.

Public is valuable, Privacy is not

Jeff Jarvis’s next book, Public Parts, went further in extolling the virtues of publicness. Jarvis thoroughly researched the history of privacy and publicness. Privacy was never something that needed to be protected. Privacy was for nobodys.

The word privacy … derives from a Latin word meaning deprived; deprived of public office; in other words, cut off from the full and appropriate functioning of a man … A nobody, in short … A man who lived only a private life, who like the slave was not permitted to enter the public realm, or like the barbarian had not chosen to establish such a realm, was not fully human.

If you were a private person, you had no status. In fact, the United States Bill of Rights protects publicness. With the exception of illegal search and seizure, the most important amendments were designed to protect your right to be who you are in public – through speech, assembly, religion, and trial. Historically, public has been more valuable than private.

Privacy was once free. Publicity was once ridiculously expensive … Now the opposite is true: You have to pay for privacy in the effort and hassle it takes to manage privacy settings. You also pay in the opportunity lost if you choose not to be public and social … [Y]ou can be rewarded – with attention, influence, information, deals – if you reveal yourself. This new economy tilts toward publicness.

Jarvis’s example for publicness in personal life is the success of Howard Stern. Stern was the pioneer of putting his personal life on radio for everybody to hear, and he’s enjoyed unprecedented success. The two are friends, and Stern’s movie inspired the title of Jarvis’s book.

Jarvis cites a 1960s book, Alan F. Westin’s Privacy and Freedom, which lists that era’s privacy concerns: the microphone, telephone, recorder, camera. Kodak cameras were scandalous when they came out. That someone could have their image taken at any moment was an invasion of privacy. It was a matter taken to litigation and public debate. How silly does that sound now? What side of history are you on?

While not condemning privacy as much as I would have liked to see, Jarvis did attack anonymity:

[A]nonymity is often the cloak of cowards. Anonymous trolls – of the human race, not the Warcraft breed – attack people online, lobbing snark at Julia Allison, spreading rumors and lies about public figures, sabotaging a politician’s Wikipedia page, or saying stupid stuff in the comments on my blog. I tell commenters there that I will respect what they have to say more if they have the guts to stand behing their words with their names, as I do.

That’s another reason I couldn’t go on being anonymous. It’s weak. It’s fearful. It’s everything I’m not about. I walk tall. I look people in the eyes and tell it how it is. I’m about being b0ld, taking risks, living aggressive. Hiding behind a fake name – it was just too weak.

Jarvis on people trying to manage two online personas:

Those are the two identities we are trying to manage – not our work selves and our home selves, not our party selves and our serious selves, but our inner, real selves and outer, show selves. When our inner and outer selves get into conflict and confusion, we appear inauthentic and hypocritical. In all our spoken fears about privacy and publicness, I think this anxiety is the great unspoken fear: that we’re not who people think we are and we’ll be found out.

Being public really keeps you honest. Being public, I can’t brag about some professional boxing career, or that I’m earning $10,000 / month or that I’m a professional cagefighter, because of the people who know me and read this blog. Being public keeps you honest and consistent.

“Transparency keeps you honest,” [Mark Zuckerberg] says. “In the strictest definition of the word, integrity is basically saying one thing to everyone. That’s true for people, and I think that’s true for companies too.”

All the media crying about privacy and everybody who is against the Schmidts and Zuckerbergs and Hoffmans, everybody trying to preserve privacy, are fossils. They’re on the wrong side of history.

In my review of The Start-Up of You, I echo the importance of establishing an identity:

You don’t have to write about your vices, and you don’t have to write something every week, or even every month. But you have to put something out there. You have to demonstrate that you have a brain. You have to be public in the 21st century.

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26 Responses to “The Death of Privacy & The New Publicness”

  1. Alex

    09. Mar, 2013

    Being up front about who you are really does eliminate the obscure as i can attest to working as an english teacher in Japan at the biggest corporate conversation school in Tokyo. In the beginning, I had my tie cinched up to near asphyxiation and now, I leave my jacket on a hanger in the closet at work where its been for the 6 months because before this job, I had never worn a suit in my life, at 33, I finally learned how to tie a tie simply based on the fact that I did everything to defy what a tie represented. The point Im making is, I ended up kicking ass at the job and making the company money, they based my performance on that, and now Im a walking 5 o’clock shadow lucky if I brush hair slob because thats who I really am, A Cali bred beach bum.

    I will disagree with you about one thing though, teaching english is somewhat profitable here and only here in Japan if you are smart about it. But yes, it is just a stepping stone and everyone is expendable. So gringos get real comfy, a nice japanese wife and just stay, greast health insurance over here and the safest country in the world, easy to call it home.

    By the way, looking above this post and reading the Poblado rentals ad, was a winner chosen from the rating raffle give-away?

  2. Jimmy

    10. Mar, 2013

    I do not want a babysitter who smokes weed. However I would hire a refrigerator salesman who smokes weed.

  3. Colin

    11. Mar, 2013

    @ Alex – There was a raffle winner, “Buff Driver.” And I’m not saying you can’t get “comfy” teaching English. But just as well, you can get comfy as a letter carrier, a clerical worker, a prison guard, etc. The “real job” jab in English Teacher X’s text is what got to me. I smelled a bit of superiority that had to be taken down a notch.

    @ Jimmy – If that were an disqualifying factor for babysitters, half my family wouldn’t make the cut. Besides, the point is, imagine you had a babysitter for a couple years already, who your kids loved. THEN you found out he/she smokes weed. Would you fire him/her?

  4. b

    11. Mar, 2013

    yeah man its ok for you to tell all because that is exactly how your making money but for me I have 30 previous convictions so any time I got a new job I did so by lying not just about having a record but about what qualifications I have for example I never finished school but I have on my c.v that I have a degree and when being interviewed I would lie and exaggerate about my experience and also I would tell them I hardly drank that I would just have a few on christmas and paddys day that sort of thing so they think Im a respectable bloke that will turn up for work on mondays, if I was honest no employer would have hired me.

  5. Colin

    11. Mar, 2013

    @ b – Another approach is to set yourself apart by creating a blog at yourname.com for example, and publishing things that are passionate to you. Even if you cut grass for a living, write about cutting grass or whatever you do with passion and I’d bet a lot of employers would overlook past indiscretions.

  6. b

    11. Mar, 2013

    Thanks for the advice that certainly is an option. Can you tell me what are the costs are like? and do the ads pay well?

  7. Colin

    11. Mar, 2013

    Costs can be as low as $13 / year on WordPress.com. Get your own hosting and the max would be $80 / year. Ads won’t pay anything until you’re at 10,000 unique visitors / month, and still it’s negligible.

    The main benefit of having a website / blog is connecting with others like you, having SOMETHING out there so people can see what you’re about.

  8. Samuel

    11. Mar, 2013

    yeah, I’m kinda torn on this issue.

    Once upon a time I was a big blogger, but I used a ‘handle’ online, though I didn’t make my name a secret. I had pics up too.

    The point was that I didn’t mind standing behind my words, or putting a face to a name, but I didn’t want to suddenly not get hired for jobs bc of google searches.

    Then I published my books, and used my real name. I opened a blog on my new website. BUT… I can’t say what i really want to say anymore. Without the handle, or anonymity, the thought police are out to getcha.

    The remedy, of course, is to have an income that isn’t dependent on the man, so that I can say what I want without being financially harmed.

    I try to post other stuff that is politically correct enough for this wretched place, but I just lose interest.

    So, basically, I’m all for putting your own name on stuff, yet, I can’t post material that I once could. The only material I care to post. I don’t want to do fluff, but controversy can bite you in the ass.

  9. Colin

    13. Mar, 2013

    “Then I published my books, and used my real name. I opened a blog on my new website. BUT… I can’t say what i really want to say anymore”

    If you wouldn’t say it under your real name, is it even worth saying?

  10. English Teacher X

    16. Mar, 2013

    I wasn’t thinking of you, actually there guy. I wasn’t thinking of anybody in particular, there are lots of young adventurers doing it.

    The difference being — I started writing about English teaching stuff, so I can’t do that under my real name and continue to teach English. Obviously if you’re trying to be a gonzo journalist, or a travel writer, you might as well use your real name.

    I have written other stuff under various aliases in other genres and fields, and made money and new opportunities and so forth.

    Now, with my real name? back to the Middle East as a teacher, for nearly six figures a year tax free and 3 months of paid holiday a year …

  11. English Teacher X

    16. Mar, 2013

    Actually — I just went back and looked at the book– you cut out the paragraph immediately following, where I explained one person I was thinking of — an American woman, a lawyer working in Moscow, who lost her job for blogging and writing a novel about all the fucking and drugs going on at her law firm. Why would you think I was talking about you particularly? I’m not familiar with the Thai whore guy you mention, either.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/expat/expatnews/8202242/The-truth-about-expats-and-the-high-life-in-Moscow.html

  12. English Teacher X

    16. Mar, 2013

    Although, looking at the link, he certainly looks like a guy worth knowing …

  13. Boy Toy (Thomas)

    16. Mar, 2013

    Hey Colin

    I really agree with you on this one. Putting your face on what you do will have much more benefits than downsides. People are so afraid of their pickup/lifestyle/debauchery-blogs getting revealed. But honestly, what are we afraid of?
    There is nothing wrong with getting laid, doing crazy stuff and living your life.
    I really respect you for putting your face on this site.
    Two months ago I also decided to put my face on my website. I’d love to hear your opinion on it… Its basically my diary from since I was 18 years old, with 130+ girls fucked, threesomes, crazy stories. I’ve also made a lot of video guides and how-to’s to help other guys achieve the freedom I have.
    Its: http://www.boytoystory.com
    Let me know what you think about it. Thank you very much and have a good one – whereever you are 😉

    – Thomas / Boy Toy

  14. English Teacher X

    17. Mar, 2013

    I also disagree that English teaching is a stepping stone to anything … other than more English teaching.

  15. Colin

    18. Mar, 2013

    @ETX – I believe you weren’t thinking of me when you wrote that, but who else? I know several public travel writers, but they’re all sterile. And I know racy writers, but they’re all anonymous. I thought I had the public racy field all to myself.

    I did cut your lawyer mention, and that def changed the context a little. But that lawyer chick was writing about the company’s behavior, right? That’s a different story than 1st person publicness. Putting your coworkers and organization on blast – that’s unethical in my opinion, and that’s why I keep others in my stories anonymous, unless they tell me it’s OK. Also confirming my other point, she must not have been important to the firm, or valuable to any other firm if she didn’t get hired right away. In my experience, being public is only a net loss if working in government or law enforcement.

    I think English teaching can be a stepping stone, depending how you think about it. I studied international business, and I have a lot of college buddies who want to come down here to Latin America, but they stress out about finding a job in their field, career direction, etc. I tell them to just get down here, start teaching English, and once they get Spanish and connections, move on if they like. Get by on English in the mean time.

    Anyway, a 6 figure deal in the Middle East certainly isn’t bad. Of all the horrible things I’d say about the region, one thing I know I’d enjoy is the FOOD.

  16. Samuel

    19. Mar, 2013

    I read all of ETX and I recall that quote. I immediately thought of Colin as well, and presumed the reference.

    And Colin, you said: “If you wouldn’t say it under your real name, is it even worth saying?”

    Quite right. I will indeed say it under my own name, and soon enough. Just not quite yet. I need to cover my ass first.

  17. English Teacher X

    19. Mar, 2013

    ego check, man! there are more young guys writing about their shit under their real names than NOT doing it, it seems. Colin Wright is very well known, Naughty Nomad has now uses his real name, Mark Zolo, after her released his ebook, and Roosh Vorek is in fact apparently that guy’s real name — he’s Persian descended or something. There are a plethora of young manosphere guys doing it, Matt Forney being one of the more notable ones. There are guys on the political side, like Aaron Cleary and Jack Donovan.

    I know these guys because their ebooks are next to mine on amazon; if I was thinking of anybody it was those guys. That guy who wrote Black Passenger, Yellow Cabs doesn’t seem to blog regularly, but he’s been on Howard Stern and stuff so he’s pretty well known.

    And of course that guy that just posted his blog three responses up.

  18. Wake

    20. Mar, 2013

    Your concern seems to be employers and business contacts only.

    I will keep a low profile online because I am afraid of the state. It is my conviction that the tougher the depression will get, the more relentless the “farming” of the population will be. And beyond taxation, inflation and outright expropriation (greetings to Cyprus); criminalisation and the ensuing fees/plunder in whatever form will become commonplace. Beyond the farming aspect, political pressure to conform to the will of the state will evolve exponentially at an even faster pace, it will violently explode. They will be black lists, they will find ways to make dissidents’ life miserable.

    Don’t forget the political dimention of being a public figure, however humble it may be.

  19. Wake

    21. Mar, 2013

  20. Colin

    25. Mar, 2013

    @ Wake – I don’t share the Orwellian view of the state at all. If anything, the internet world is making the government more transparent via sites like Wikileaks.

    I don’t believe there will be any kind of black lists or dissident repression. We’ll see.

    In your example, which appears to be an isolated incident at best, the guy told the cops to leave and they did. It’s just not that oppressive.

    If anybody would be the victim of an omniscient, oppressive state, it’d be me. And besides getting searched for drugs the last time I entered the US, nothing has happened.

  21. Craig

    03. Apr, 2013

    I don’t how people can blog (or write anything) under a pen name for years on end. When the personal aspect is absent it’s hard for the passion to be there.

    If there isn’t passion, people will sniff it out two sentences in and they’ll be gone.

    Good write up, my man. I may start dropping in a little more often. 🙂

  22. Socialkenny

    05. Apr, 2013

    Great article. I’m currently arguing with some bloggers about this same subject of anonymity, but they obviously don’t see it that way.

    I don’t use my real name but that’s more out of preference than fear. However, I do post pics of myself throughout my site whenever needed to re-enforce my points.

    The average guys however is killing his growth opportunity by hiding in a sense.

  23. Keanu

    05. May, 2013

    Great article. I’m in total agreement with this statement:

    If your employer will fire you for smoking a joint or snorting a line of coke, then YOU DON’T HAVE A GOOD JOB. If fact, that should tell you that you’re EXPENDABLE.

    Question: Have you ever been to Paraguay?

  24. Erin Donaldson

    15. May, 2013

    I have to comment…..wow! I am currently living in Eje Cafetero here in Colombia and I am so impressed by your article. I have been a fan of English Teacher X since I started teaching ESL a year and a half ago. In fact I found this page because of him so lots of respect for that. However you make a good argument for coming out into the public. I teach but my aspirations are much much higher and I find the economic climate in Colombia to be ripe for my ideas to come to fruition. This article gave a viewpoint that I think will go a long ways towards helping me see my dreams as a writer, tour operator, translator, English teacher…..do you get the idea yet?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Why I’m Using My Name | This Rough Beast - May 17, 2013

    […] One of the main dilemmas I had when setting up this blog was whether or not to use my real name. On the one hand, the hassle of having to keep up an online identity isn’t something I want to deal with. Considering that I want to focus on goings on around where I live and uphold something of a localist spirit, it would be more than a little limiting to constantly have to worry about saying something that could give my location or something else telling away. On  the other hand, my naturally paranoid instincts have scenarios from identity theft to stalking to saying something that is taken out of context by some fanatically-PC bureaucrat who decides to make things difficult. In the end, I decided to use my name because I want to be able to harness the social technology at my disposal to dialogue face-to-face, as it were, and not behind permanent masks. I also plan on using this blog as a way to improve my own writing and get it into a more public sphere, so a pseudonym would also be self-defeating. Reading this article by Colin at Expat Chronicles convinced me that my decision was the right one. […]

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    […] is your own.  If you are working a job where your personal time and habits are under scrutiny then you are selling yourself short. Way short.  Unless your personal habits, hygiene or issues are affecting your ability to do a […]

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