Just freewheeling about sharing and privacy

Sharing isn’t just about what you do, it’s also about the way you think. I remember, many years ago, learning this the hard way:

When I lived in Calcutta, I used to be pretty gregarious. We were that kind of family, and “home” had the feel of being a club. People coming and going all the time, a free and easy house. Meals on tap. No real concept of individual or personal space, in fact no real concept of individual friends either: you were either a friend of the family or you weren’t, that was that.

It was “normal” for me to come home and to be greeted by one of “my” friends leaving, saying he may be back later. We didn’t have a large house, so it meant that every room was pretty crowded, with stuff happening everywhere; people playing contract bridge, carroms, cards, cluedo, chess; people listening to music; playing table-tennis; just sitting and chatting.

And eating.

We ate all day and all night. Magically tea and coffee and food would arrive. And it would disappear. Fast. I have no idea how my mother coped with me during that time. I was capable of inviting a dozen (or two) people over to the house, with zero notice, and with the expectation that all would be fed. It was the done thing there. When you went to someone else’s house, food would appear. And you were expected to eat it.

That was then.  A long time ago, in Calcutta, when I was growing up.

Much later, when I’d been married for a while, this mindset caused me to come unstuck. Without thinking about it, I added a couple of people as invitees to dinner one night, just an hour or so before dinner. And my then fiancee looked at me strangely, and I knew I was in trouble. [Not that much trouble, really. We’ve been married over 23 years now, and we get closer every year].

So why did I get into trouble? Well, we planned to serve steak that night, and this meant we did strange things. Strange western things. Like counting out potatoes, three per person, with a handful over. And for that matter counting out steaks….

So we had 10 steaks and 12 people. Problem. And the only way to resolve it that late was for me to “make” two new steaks by trimming pieces off the existing steaks, sort of gourmet large-granularity hamburger I guess. And of course we as hosts had to have them.

That episode, a quarter of a century ago, taught me something. I never had meals in India that I couldn’t expand at will. Just add rice. Just add a few vegetables. Just add a bit of this and a bit of that.

Sharing is something that’s in your head. That goes for information too. Take collaborative filtering. You get out of it what you put into it, and something more. Of course you need to have choice, you need to be able to choose whom you share with, and what you share. Of course there are different decisions to make in terms of the sharing architecture, in terms of the way you implement collaborative filtering. Is it an opt-in or opt-out model? How granular is that option? Is the shared data anonymised or not? Should it be?

There are many things to be resolved, many classes of person to protect, many classes of action to look out for.

But it all begins with one thing. A belief in sharing.

Let’s not kid ourselves. I meet too many people who criticise social software, who rant against open communities, who come up with reams of excuses as to why virtual communities aren’t designed right, why there are a lot of problems with privacy. Most of them don’t like opensource either; most of them don’t like to see current IPR “regimes” being attacked; most of them don’t believe in wisdom-of-crowds.

Most of them don’t really believe in community.

Sharing is community. They don’t like that.

3 thoughts on “Just freewheeling about sharing and privacy”

  1. I ran across an article that really seems to drive home your point, JP. Or at least what I took as your point – that underlying the opposition to social software and open communities is either a fear or a general disbelief in real community.

    A quick excerpt from the article (link below): “I’m inclined to think that these systems are subject to a Brook’s-law parallel: ‘Adding more users to a social network increases the probability that it will put you in an awkward social circumstance.’ ”


    I was a little surprised to see Cory take the angle he did on this. Yes, openness and sharing have imperfections. So does community– but perhaps this is throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

  2. Great piece JP…In addition to the mindset for sharing, the tension between privacy and sharing is showing up in so many different ways because of social media.

    When somebody shares ones stories with a community, one inevitably loses some of ones privacy…I think more and more people are ok with it but still there are pockets of resistance.


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