Life-Logging and the Generation Gap over Privacy
Life-Logging and the Generation Gap over Privacy
Daily documentation has become routine as the tech-savvy to connect with everyone, anyone, anytime. Guests on the program talks about "life-logging," a system that documents every conversation, movement, and idea through a series of recording gadgets like GPS trackers and even brain scanners.
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Remember the good old days when every Hello Kitty diary had an actual, real-life lock on it? Well, not only have the times changed, every change has been logged. Daily documentation has become routine for the tech savvy to connect with everyone, anyone, anytime. Blogs are practically passé. Welcome to a new world of vlogs, MySpace, Flickr, and now life-logging, a system that documents every conversation, movement, and idea through a series of recording gadgets like cameras, GPS trackers, even brain scanners.
Constant exposure is of course a double-edge sword. Online diarists and life-loggers must be prepared for humiliation as well as fame; and in this day and age, they're often the same thing. And it's creating a generation gap between those who prefer to keep their blinds closed and those who love a glass house and are not afraid to play catch with stones.
Coming up later in the program, Hollywood snubs the Valentine spirits says one commentator. But first, life-logging and the generation gap over privacy. How much of your life do you put online? Are you a diehard logger and online archiver? If so, why? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And our first guest is Emily Nussbaum, contributing editor of New York magazine and the author of New York magazine's look into the online world, where virtually everything is exposed. She joins us from our bureau in New York. Thanks for struggling in through the snow.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. EMILY NUSSBAUM (Contributing Editor, New York Magazine): Thank you. (unintelligible)
CONAN: And Emily, I guess the first question that came to my mind is why on earth are people willing to showcase their personal lives on the Internet, or did I just fall into the gaping generation gap?
Ms. NUSSBAUM: Well, I think that's the question pretty much everybody from the older generation asks in response to this, and that applies to everything from blogs to even text messaging, emailing, like a whole line of different technological phenomena. People just say why would you do that? And part of what I'm talking about in the article is the fact that for younger people that's not a very meaningful question. Their life is very much lived with technology at the center of it, and it's not something they question a lot, and it's shaped in a lot of ways the psychology of how they're growing up. So to ask a 16-year-old why are you putting a blog online? Why do you have a profile of yourself? Why do you have information up there? The answer would be because all my friends do.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: I mean most people that I talk to in their teens and sometimes their early 20s had at the very least something like a MySpace page or a Facebook page. And often people really live a lot of their social and creative lives online and connect their online lives with their offline lives in a very significant and complex way.
When I talk about a generation gap, I'm talking about it primarily in terms of the values that people have about privacy that are shaped by this experience of using technology. But this is not to say that every older person is different than every younger person or that every younger person literally puts every single thing they've ever experienced online.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: But I am talking about what I see as like a genuine social shift in the psychology of what people consider private. And I do think for someone like me who grew up without e-mail even when I was in high school, the sense of what it must be like to have, say, the worst breakup and fight with your friend that you had when you were 16 and a series of videos of some of the best times that you had at parties all available easily online not only to yourself and your friends but often to strangers is a really striking and shocking thing.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: But to people who do it, it really makes sense.
CONAN: And to people who do it, these are people who, you write, are accustomed to having an audience; it may be small, but an audience.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: Well, sometimes it's small and sometimes it's large. And the bigger thing is sometimes you actually can't tell whether it's large or small. The people who are coming up with this technology as a given have an experience of using something that might seem very intimate and then suddenly, like an accordion kind of shaped sort of communication, might suddenly expand to everyone.
So for instance, you might be instant messaging with a friend and then make a little joke, and your friend might cut and paste that and put it on their blog. Or somebody at a party took a photo of you, and you're drunk and acting silly, and it's a goofy photo, and they put it up on Flickr the next day. And then, you know, a snarky blog picks it up and sort of makes fun of the photo, or somebody forwards something onto their friends. So the feeling that you have when you post things online is that you might be speaking quietly and nobody might be reading you...
Ms. NUSSBAUM: ...or everybody might be reading you, and it can happen pretty suddenly.
CONAN: And in fact one of the things that people, including yourself, have noted is there's sort of a disconnect, that young people are somewhat alarmed to find that not just they and their friends have access to places like MySpace. In fact, their parents and other grownups do, too.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: Well, I've talked to a lot of younger people, and they had a range of different responses to that. Some people do have a sort of deliberate denial, I think, about it, where they basically - the idea that a parent or relative or a teacher or something could go in just seems boggling to them.
But I think that a lot of that was due to the introduction of these technologies. There's always a period when a technology is introduced that nobody knows how to use it, and people use it with real bumptiousness. And you know, like for instance when answering machine came - answering machines for telephones first came out, I remember everybody left these goofy messages on them. There were really long, personalized songs. And then six months went by and people stopped doing that.
CONAN: Yeah, all they...
Ms. NUSSBAUM: They realized it was kind of crazy. But with...
CONAN: All they said was call me.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: Sorry.
CONAN: All they said was call me.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: Yeah, then they just changed it to the sort of meta thing where they go you know what to do, like that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. NUSSBAUM: And, you know, when I was in high school Walkman came out and people sang along to them. So similarly I think with things like blogs and Flickr and Vimeo and, you know, YouTube, and things like that, there's a period when people use them with a kind of psychological freeness and adventurousness, and sort of carefree and sometimes dangerous use.
But at this point, once people become more used to them, they are aware of the fact that they might be read by other people, and that's part of their calculation. Like they're willing to risk some level of embarrassment or some level of exposure because to them the payoff is really strong, like people will know them, they'll be intimate with other people. They're giving up part of themselves to read about other people. And they can really speak to people internationally, make friends all over the world or have people respond to their artwork. All of that comes with a risk, and the risk is basically somebody could make fun of you, somebody could read it.
But I think the more that people use these technologies, especially younger people, for whom it's a real natural language for them, the more that's not a total surprise. It's just part of the calculation.
CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line. 800-989-8255 if you'd like to join us, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is email@example.com. And Kyle's(ph) on the line with us from Louisville, Kentucky.
KYLE (Caller): Hi, Neal. Thanks for taking my call.
KYLE: I was just calling to comment about MySpace. I don't really video blog too much. I've kind of been wanting to get into it, but I've yet to do that. But I go on MySpace quite often. Frequently - everyday I'm on there, and every night when I come home for work I have to check it out. And it's just funny how people get addicted to it, and it's like this whole other lifestyle you have. And I couldn't image deleting my MySpace and like coming home to, you know, check nothing online other than my e-mail, which is very boring these days.
But I just think it's funny, like, the drive that I feel to, you know, get on here and check everything out and see who's talking to me, see who I can talk to, yada-yada, you know.
CONAN: And you don't think that this is - I know you've probably heard criticism, Kyle, that you don't have real friends, you have virtual friends.
KYLE: Well, yes, that too, Neal. But I have lots of - I mostly just talk to people I know in real life on MySpace, which is odd. But I do try to make, you know, virtual friends, as you call it. But more or less I just talk to people I see everyday on MySpace.
CONAN: And you are, excuse me, how old, Kyle?
CONAN: Twenty-two. And Emily Nussbaum, would this put him ahead of, on the, or behind the curve.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. NUSSBAUM: I don't think you can really judge that literally by his age, but I do have to say that what he said about using MySpace but not using video does seem really common for people that I've talked to who are, say, 19 or older.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: Because the truth is what we're talking about is something that is so much in flux. Technology changes so fast. YouTube is really only two years old, so there's all of this new stuff coming up online. And it does seem to me that people in their early twenties are often much more used to the text-based thing...
Ms. NUSSBAUM: …whereas people a little younger than that are very into visuals. Like people have - you know, Caitlin Oppermann, one of the people I featured in my article, she told me she really never goes out without her digital camera and without a little video-taker. And she puts online really quite evocative, funny little videos just daily of her life. It's really part of the way that she documents herself. And I think that's more usual for younger people, and it's going to be interesting to see how the rhetoric, how the - you know, how the visual language develops as something that people use to express themselves online.
KYLE: If I could just comment on that real quick?
CONAN: Go ahead, Kyle.
KYLE: It just it never ceases to amaze me every time I get on YouTube to check out what people are doing and how they're video blogging. And, like she said, this girl never leaves home without her camera, and the amount of material these people have on here and the time they must really put into making these videologs, and like you said, recording day-to-day, you know, menial activity and documenting it - and people, you know, there's a million hits on this girl, you know, like petting her cat or something strange like that.
And it's just - it never ceases to amazes me how much time these younger people put into this whole YouTube phenomenon. And it's just - it's really intriguing stuff. I mean, just the simplest thing can just - it'll suck you in, and you're just watching it and you're addicted. And you're checking out everybody else before you know it.
CONAN: Kyle, I don't mean to quote you back at yourself, but you just said these younger people.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Welcome to our side of the generation gap, Kyle.
KYLE: Yeah, I know. I don't consider myself to be old by any means, Neal, but it just seems to me that like 18, 19-year-old people, seniors in high school, a little bit younger than that, are really getting into that because they've got cell phones with video and amazing capability on them, and they can just do this all the time. And, you know, for me, I just got on MySpace like, you know, three or four years ago and, you know, that's enough for me. But if I did have the time and everything else - but I'm server, and I don't really have time to follow myself around with a camera all day - but if I did, I think it'd be something fun to do.
KYLE: But it's just - it seems to me it's something that, you know, a little bit people younger than me are getting into.
CONAN: Kyle, thanks very much, and good luck with your upcoming vlog.
KYLE: Thank you, sir.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Appreciate it.
KYLE: All right.
CONAN: We mentioned earlier Vimeo, which was identified in Emily Nussbaum's column as a sort of hipster version of YouTube. Joining us now is Jakob Lodwick, co-founder of Vimeo, a site for sharing video clips. He joins us from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you with us today.
Mr. JAKOB LODWICK (Co-founder, Vimeo): Hello.
CONAN: And you received flack for a video you posted on which you appeared to be lying down in front of a moving bus. What happened?
Mr. LODWICK: When I was a freshman in college, I picked up a copy of Adobe After Effects, which is like Adobe Photoshop for video.
Mr. LODWICK: And I wanted to do an experiment with it, so I shot some footage of traffic going by, and then I shot a clip of myself running out in the road and jumping down and then waiting a moment and getting back up and running back towards the camera. And then I put the two elements together like you would for a fake photo - but it was a fake video - and I put it on my personal Web site. And I started hearing people talk about it around school, like, have you heard of this video of this guy outside in a parking lot almost getting killed by a bus? And it kind of caught on. It was…
Mr. LODWICK: …it went viral back in 1999.
CONAN: And was that really the - we just have a seconds before we have to go to a break - but was that the origin of Vimeo?
Mr. LODWICK: I've been making videos since I was about nine years old. You could probably trace it back to then. Vimeo itself didn't get started until late 2004.
CONAN: Well, we'll find out more about it when we come back from a short break. Jakob Lodwick will stay with us - also Emily Nussbaum, the writer and author of New York magazine's piece "Say Everything." If you'd like to join the conversation about life-logging: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm Neal Conan. This is the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.
We're talking about privacy this hour, or the lack there of in the online world of life-logging. Our guests are Emily Nussbaum, contributing editor at New York magazine, and Jakob Lodwick, co-creator of vimeo.com. And we want to hear from you. What have you got online? You're invited to join the discussion: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is email@example.com. And Jakob, let me ask you. We've talked a little bit about vimeo.com. You also have collegehumor.com…
Mr. LODWICK: Yes.
CONAN: …of which you're a co-creator. And you're also involved in a lot of things. How much time do you spend online everyday?
Mr. LODWICK: I hate to let you down, but it's not that much. I'm working on Vimeo all day long, but the Web kind of bores me. And I spend some time e-mailing with friends maybe, you know, an hour after work and maybe another hour reading articles. But I deleted my MySpace account. I committed MySpace suicide…
Mr. LODWICK: …and I generally don't spend much time on the Web because it's sort of a barren wasteland of commercial interests and just boringness.
CONAN: With a couple of critical exceptions, which you're involved with.
Mr. LODWICK: Oh, and my sites are an exception. My sites are exceptional.
CONAN: Your sites are an - tell us a little bit about Vimeo. I guess some people are becoming pretty familiar now with YouTube - and we always get this question: Y-O-U-T-U-B-E.com, that's all one word - but YouTube has become a fairly familiar phenomenon. What's Vimeo? How is it different?
Mr. LODWICK: YouTube is a great site, and I do use it for watching TV clips and stuff that's wildly popular. Vimeo's different than that. It's about people who make videos, sharing those videos.
CONAN: And there are a lot of seemingly shared videos on YouTube as well. Yours - this is more intimate, are you saying?
Mr. LODWICK: Yeah, it's - it's hard to find stuff on Vimeo that wasn't uploaded by the person who created it.
CONAN: Ah-ha. So this is not third party. This is all first person.
Mr. LODWICK: Yes.
CONAN: And what kinds of things do people - I guess all kinds of things. I mean, you can't categorize it, can you?
Mr. LODWICK: No. It's interesting. We see a wide range. The types of videos that my friends and I put up, we tend to do a little more editing. But we find a lot of people putting up just clips right off their digital camera of their babies or their nephews or of their cats. It kind of depends on who the person is. But the consistent theme is that people put up stuff that they made themselves.
CONAN: They made themselves. And Emily Nussbaum, as you look at these videos and - this is a different way of conceiving your life and how to not only document it, but how to recall it later.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: Yes, I think that is what it is. It's a combination of things. I mean, people create these things sort of to communicate with other people as a form of self-expression, as a form of self-documentation. I mean, a lot of the videos that I've seen on Vimeo are these little kind of just slices of life. And a lot of times when I've talked to people about this, they've gone, but why would you want to watch this? Why would you want to watch just basically a piece of behavior of somebody that you might not personally know?
But actually, I have to say - maybe I'm just a huge voyeur or something - but I do find it quite compelling, because they're not, you know, they're not - they're stylized in their own way, but it does give you this odd little window into somebody's world in a way that is, you know, different but connected to me, to a lot of different things that people do online, which is basically sharing little parts of themselves. So for instance, watching a Vimeo video of when Caitlin was visiting New York and she was just hoola-hooping in Washington Square Park is a weirdly fascinating experience because you just get this tiny little intimate peek into somebody's world and experience.
Mr. LODWICK: And there's a level of context that you get that adds to the fascination. It's not just the video sitting there on a Web page. The video is there with, separately, a photograph of the person who took it, information about where they live, links to other clips that they're in. So while a video of a girl holding a cat isn't necessarily interesting on its own, if I have a crush on that girl, the video is fascinating.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. NUSSBAUM: OK, I hadn't really realized that that was - that that's the focus of the site, is for people to be able to seek out their crushes holding kittens.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. NUSSBAUM: But I actually do think that what Jakob is talking about is true, is the fact that - not just on Vimeo, but in general, on some of the more fascinating kind of places on the Web - what you get is you get a link between the person and all of these different kind of arms of self-expression on their part, and people make different choices.
I mean, in my article I talk a lot about, you know, private and public and the idea of the values of private and public. And people just have very different definitions of what constitutes publicness. The videos that are on Vimeo that Jakob is talking about might strike many people as really like raw and like strangely putting your life out there and everybody can see you.
But to the people who actually put stuff out there, they make careful choices of their own about what they consider intimate and what they consider private. I actually don't think I interviewed a single person, even the most - the person that I considered the most exhibitionistic - who didn't say to me, you know, I'm kind of a very private person.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: Because I think that people know that culturally, it's supposed to be a positive thing to say about yourself. And they're also trying to express something that's true, which is that it's not a toggle switch. It's not like an on-off switch between I spill everything out into the world and I tell you nothing. There's a really wide continuum of ways to express yourself, and people are experimenting with that a lot more and more as the different sort of access points become available.
CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. And let's go to Janet, Janet with us from San Jose in California.
JANET (Caller): Hi.
JANET: I'm a mother of two teenagers, and MySpace is very much a part of their life, much to my consternation many times. I have two observations, or things to throw out there. One was an instance with my son this summer, where he was away at summer camp and someone brought his then girlfriend's MySpace to my attention.
And, you know, I'm not ashamed to say that I do occasionally go on MySpace and look at other people's, you know, their friends and theirs and that's - you know, I'm keeping in touch, and it certainly is a good way. But in reading along on her MySpace, I was able to find out all about their sex life and drug use - or hers, and things that she wanted to do. And so pretty much I greeted my son's homecoming from summer camp with pointing out that not only is it just between them, but his younger sister is able to read this stuff…
JANET: ...me (unintelligible). And, you know, I pretty much insisted that he ask his girlfriend to take that stuff down. I mean, it's just like…
Mr. LODWICK: Yeah.
JANET: …there's no modesty. There's no filter. There's no, you know, concern that you might not want everybody to be reading (unintelligible) stuff.
Mr. LODWICK: Was it interesting?
JANET: I'm sorry, what?
Mr. LODWICK: Was it interesting?
JANET: Well, you know, it's not - it wasn't a novel. You know, it was just kind of, you know, comments, you know.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: I do understand what you're saying, by the way, of why you were upset about this…
Ms. NUSSBAUM: …and a lot of people find that stuff very upsetting, especially in what you're talking about, which is a parent-child relationship…
Ms. NUSSBAUM: …where it just seems like people are used to the fact that teenagers keep secrets and are in fact - you know, anybody in my generation is used to the fact that teenagers are in fact hyper-secret…
JANET: Right. Oh, yeah.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: …because there is a lot to hide from their parents, and there's a real strain about that.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: However, I do think, you know, this is exactly the tension point I feel like culturally, is that I do wonder how these things will change over time. And this isn't directed at your particular situation, because I actually do understand why you were…
Ms. NUSSBAUM: …you know, disturbed by this and concerned about exactly that question of like, you know, if one person can read this, and 10 persons - people can read this, a thousand people can read this…
Ms. NUSSBAUM: …like that exact moment. But the thing - this is just a sort of more general point, it's not about your particular situation. But what I wonder is whether this moment in history, when there's a real disjunct between the feelings of parents about these kinds of things and the feelings of teenagers about these things, whether that will change over the course of the next 15 or 20 years. I mean, I can't really say because it could go in different directions.
But one thing I wonder is at the point that say, your son, you know, is an adult and say, has somebody younger working at his workplace and finds out that the person has a really - a bunch of pictures of himself drunk online. I wonder if at that point it will just seem like a more normal thing.
I mean, for good or for bad, I wonder whether there's really a, you know - over time there will a societal shift so the kinds of things that were considered -as you were talking about - like really shocking, shameful, no modesty will actually shift the definition, because that's happened in the past. I mean, you know, in the past, merely finding out that somebody had had premarital sex would have been a very shocking and appalling thing.
JANET: Yeah, that's true.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: And at this point, having - or, you know, like a teenager smoking pot. And, you know, to some people, that would still be very shocking, but there's definitely been shifts in what's considered appalling and shameful. And I wonder whether that will continue to shift so that talking publicly about one's experiences and feelings won't be considered as surprising or as shameful in the future. I don't know whether that's a good or bad thing or if it'll keep up in that way.
CONAN: Let me…
JANET: It's up to the person to understand what's appropriate to talk about, and I guess if you think that, well, this is MySpace, and I'm going to talk about whatever I want, you know. You know?
Ms. NUSSBAUM: I guess that's how people feel about it.
CONAN: Well, let me ask Jakob Lodwick about this in the context of this e-mail. And Janet, thank you very much for the call.
CONAN: And this is e-mail we got from Darryl in Phoenix, Arizona.
I'm wondering if this sort of recording everything in your life on the Internet is a fad thing that a young person grows out of as they get older.
Mr. LODWICK: I don't think it's a fad. I think that the specific sites that people are using today might be fads, but I think that it's part of deeper drive to express ourselves and that people will continue to do it in some form or another for a while.
I mean if you just look at any conversation - you put a couple of people in a room together, everybody's just dying to talk, and people tend to cut each other off, and everybody wants to be involved. And I think that extends to taking pictures, writing poems, all that stuff I see as people externalizing their thoughts.
And, you know, teenagers today are using Myspace and photos, but, you know, people have been writing books, making movies, playing music for as far back as we know. And I think that's just going to continue.
CONAN: Jakob thanks very much for being with us today. We appreciate your time.
Mr. LODWICK: Thank you.
CONAN: Jakob Lodwick, co-founder of vimeo.com. Also co-founder of collegehumor.com. And he joined us today from our bureau in New York City.
And let me see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is Jim. Jim's with us from Riverside, California.
Go ahead, Jim. You're on the air.
JIM (Caller): Hi. Thank you. I just wanted to say, now I understand that there's fascination with making your own video, making your own productions and putting them online. But if the host and guests can explain, you know, the contribution that Google and Wikipedia made to this movement. That their philosophy was if you're going to take information, then you need to give back information.
CONAN: Nice to hear that it's still exciting to be on the radio, too. Let's get a response from Emily Nussbaum.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: Yeah, I agree. I think Google and Wikipedia are huge, huge things online. I mean in different ways they've radicalized things, especially Google and anything involving search engines. Because really, you know, what the Web is is just a massive, massive amount of information. And until there was a real sorting system, you know, there was no way to figure out what you were interested in, what you wanted to see.
And Google especially has changed things in terms of people's self-expression, because there's this - there's all sorts of odd phenomena attached to Google. Including - as I'm pretty sure that everybody who has used a computer has Googled themselves and found basically what does the Web think of me. Who am I?
Like you end up seeing all sorts of odd things, like, you know, it could just be a reference of some committee meeting that you took place with will show up online. And people are often really startled the first time they Google themselves. And sometimes they become obsessed with it and they Google all their ex's and they Google all their friends. And it becomes sort of part of ones identity, basically the portrait of yourself that shows up on Google.
And one of the things that I found among some of the younger people that I talked to was a feeling that to a certain extent your life is taking place in public anyway. All of your transactions are tracked. You know, there are cameras in public places. All your e-mails are saved on somebody's server. And, frankly, references to your life are going to show up online one way or another, especially if you're coming up from, you know, your teenage years onward. Like there are going to be traces of you.
So you can either leave those traces out there, or try to fight them and eliminate them, or you can participate and actually try to get yourself the top Google ranking. And get yourself what's sometimes called Google juice and basically shape your own image. So it's becomes a real politic question of -it's not a question of am I private or am I public. You are public. And so once you're there, how can you make it work for you? And that's sort of the attitude that I find.
Wikipedia is also incredible because it's just - it's a group production of people producing an encyclopedia. It's fantastic.
CONAN: Jim, thanks very much for the call. And say hi to all your friends, too.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Joining us now is Gordon Bell, a senior researcher for Microsoft with firsthand experience with life logging. He's captured a lifetime's worth of articles, books, CDs, letters, papers, and photos, stored them all digitally. And he joins us now from member station KQED in San Francisco.
Gordon, nice to have you on the program today.
Mr. GORDON BELL (Senior researcher, Microsoft): Nice to be here.
CONAN: And recently you've gone way beyond letters and photos. You're capturing phone calls, IM transcripts, television - radio shows as well?
Mr. BELL: Oh, yeah. I have virtually records of all of that. Unlike what's going on here, essentially this life-logging that's going on, I tend to keep things on my hard drive and then, depending on how things are going, will share or not share that in various forums.
This is probably just - you know, in one way I relate to people under 20 wanting to have really good productions, video productions or whatever, and that takes a lot of work. And as an engineer I like to have good stuff out there. Not the stuff that I see right now, as basically we're creating a very, very large cyber landfill.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: You call your project MyBits.
Mr. BELL: MyLifeBits. And it really started out of scan- when a friend of mine wanted to put all the world's knowledge online in the form of encoding all the books - why I donated my books I had written as prototypes. And that was in '98. And then I proceeded to go through a lot of scanning and then most recently entered into this current phase of thinking of my connection with a computer as really one of a transaction process. Said that I wanted, fundamentally, to understand exactly what's going on.
And I'm doing this mostly for the benefit of - I hope the benefit of my company, which is to make computers more useful, including the ability of computers to help remember things for people who are memory impaired and the like.
CONAN: Well, one of the things I know you did was carry a motion-sensored camera - in other words, a camera that started when it detected motion - around your neck for a while. How did people react to that?
Mr. BELL: Well, in a way, I guess maybe all these people blogging made everybody insensitive. So I can walk through the streets of San Francisco with the sense camera around my neck and really only in a few cases get some reaction to that, that that potentially would be a little bit weird.
But the camera takes roughly a couple of thousand pictures a day. And so essentially you end up with these kind of time lapses of your day, and that's been used by people who've got memory problems to do a memory recall.
Now what I think would be useful is we need to get that camera out there, because we've got this infinite market out there of people who want to put their - want to exhibit themselves online.
CONAN: Infinite market, there's a phrase your company will like.
Mr. BELL: Yeah. Oh, yeah. I mean I'm seeing everybody - what I'm hearing here is - maybe it's not that large, but in fact it's pretty large. All of the people who want to blog, this is a way to allow massive blogging and flood cyberspace more.
CONAN: Gordon Bell, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.
Mr. BELL: Okay.
CONAN: More after a break. This is NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
In just a couple of minutes, we'll talk about Hollywood losing its Valentine's spirit. But let's continue taking calls about online diarists, whether or not privacy will ever be the same. Our guest is Emily Nussbaum, writer of New York magazine's piece "Say Everything."
And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is Andy. Andy's with us from Lake St. Louis in Missouri.
ANDY (Caller): Hi. I wanted to comment on sort of two things. The first thing is, I think a lot of these blogs are really not very interesting. They're very, very inane. And the second thing is a few years ago, I think I was out of high school for a couple of years, and I was going out with a girl who was either in high school or had just gotten out, and she wanted me to read her blogs. And I would and they would just be so inane and boring, and I just think it's funny how…
CONAN: So they were inane and boring even though you had a crush on her?
ANDY: Exactly. I just think it's funny how she wanted it to be like part of the relationship. And I just thought why don't you just tell me these things.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: That's very interesting. I mean, first of all, it's almost transparently basically true that, you know, tons of everything online is boring to some people, and a lot of it is in fact inane or off-putting or just weird.
But the thing that you're saying about - like, so I'm kind of curious about this, because that is a very interesting kind of relationship conundrum. Because I do find that reading people's blogs tends to change their real life relationships in all sorts of ways.
Some people find it really wonderful. They're like - it just is another form of intimacy for them to be able to have access sort of daily to the person's thoughts. In this case, it made you think that she was, I guess, self-indulgent and not a very good writer, or what was your opinion of what she had?
ANDY: I think that was about it, you know. There wasn't anything new. There wasn't anything that she couldn't have just told me earlier that day or later that day.
CONAN: And can I ask, Andy, is this a former girlfriend?
ANDY: Very much so.
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Ms. NUSSBAUM: It would be a particularly sadistic use of the public/private conundrum to go on the radio and denounce her blog if you were actually dating her.
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Ms. NUSSBAUM: But I do think that, you know, it's interesting that - I don't know whether you guys have an age differential, and I'm not saying that age is everything in this, but it does seem to be like - I've talked to a lot of people who have had their blogs be a huge, huge part of their friendships and their relationships, and often they didn't actually talk about what they'd read.
They would simply go online and they'd read stuff, and occasionally they'd make a comment at the end of a blog entry or they wouldn't ever speak about it at all. But it would simply be kind of as though there was an added element to their knowledge of one another. Like they not only knew one another in real life and physically and through conversations, but they somehow also had access to this kind of daily little, you know, tube of sometimes minutiae and sometimes really deep thoughts.
I mean it varies depending on the person. Because I can see that reading somebody's blog could either raise your impression of them or completely destroy it, as in this case. But you yourself I guess don't keep stuff online or you don't have - do you have a Facebook page or anything like that? I don't know how old you are.
ANDY: I'm 21, and I hate to admit I do have Myspace and Facebook.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: Aha!
ANDY: Which I have deleted and recreated several times. You know, I'm kind of on bubble there.
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Ms. NUSSBAUM: So what is the reason that you're deleted and kept them? Just out of curiosity, because I have to say a lot of people that I've talked to, like even people who really feel strongly, like there's a lot of self-indulgent bad stuff. This is so show-offy. When I ask people under a certain age, they generally have at least something. So, you know, what caused you to keep it or delete it?
ANDY: Well, when I - sometimes if I just - my page just sits there and I find myself - I'm not really talking to these people and they're not really talking to me, and I'm not making any new connections and I don't really look at other stranger's pages. I don't really find that very interesting, usually. And it just goes, you know, from misuse and I'll delete it.
But then I'll remember there's people that I've met that live in different states, you know, that I don't talk to a whole lot but I would just like to kind of keep track of, and that's usually the main reason why I keep it.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: That seems true for a lot of people that I've talked to. There are sort of like silent links with people they may not actually be talking to a lot, but they keep in touch with them.
Like people leave high school and go to college, and they just occasionally read the online worlds of their old friends from high school. And then by the time they go back for vacation, they really don't need to catch up tremendously. They know a little bit about what's going on with them.
That is a really new thing. I mean, that was not true for me when I went away to college. I just lost touch with people, and then they get in touch with people that they knew years ago. I mean, that can have all sorts of different repercussions, but I do think it's, like, an interesting extension of the way in which people are intimate with one another.
CONAN: Andy, thanks very much for the call.
ANDY: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. In your article in New York magazine you summarized the reaction of older people to what's going on. Kids today, they have no sense of shame. They have no sense of privacy. They're show-offs, fame-whores, pornographic little loons who post their diaries, their phone numbers, their stupid poetry - for God's sake, their dirty photos online. They have virtual friends instead of real ones. They talk in illiterate instant messages. They're interested only in attention, and yet they have zero attention span, flitting like hummingbirds from one virtual stage to the next.
And you conclude your article by saying welcome to the revolution, and just pick which side you're on.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: Yeah, exactly. I mean, that section you read was basically me trying to (unintelligible) or parody what I see a lot in the media, but also, you know, just how people talk about this, which is with a sense of, you know, contempt and cartoonizing, basically. Like just making a really sort of extreme dismissal of the experience of younger people who are online as though it's only and always about narcissism. And that's something I really disagree with.
I'm not saying there aren't downsides to online worlds. I'm not saying there isn't an element of, you know, unhealthy stuff that goes on or exhibitionism that's off-putting to me, personally. But what I'm saying in the article is I'm saying instead of just doing that thing that I've compared to the generation gap over rock and roll of just dismissing it and saying this is crude and vulgar and disgusting, you know, young people are crazy.
Instead, people should actually - this is the moment, really, that people should start taking it seriously and actually examine it as an alternate psychology and not simply go to the sort of most extreme form of contempt. Especially because I do feel like there's often a sensationalistic tendency for people to just go like, disgusting, slutty lunatics are putting all their stuff and actually not really pay attention to the more quotidian, daily experience of it, which is about communication and intimacy, and sometimes artistic expression. And sometimes it's just, like, you know, when the telephone was added to people's homes. It changed the way that people communicated. We should take seriously how this is changing the way that people communicate.
CONAN: Emily Nussbaum, thanks very much. We appreciate your time today.
Ms. NUSSBAUM: Thank you.
CONAN: Emily Nussbaum, a contributing editor at New York magazine, author of New York Magazine's cover piece, "Say Everything." And she joined us from our bureau in New York. And when we come back, a Valentine's Day snub from Hollywood.
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