Privacy of the individual in the global village of the World Wide Web (4th Post)   no comments

Posted at 2:20 pm in Psychology

This week I took the initiative to start reading a book that is not a textbook and is written by Irwin Altman, a social psychologist in the 70s. The book is called “The Environment and Social Behavior: Privacy, Personal Space, Territory, Crowding”.

In the first chapters of the book, Altman focuses on privacy. Below are some of the main points that he makes:

1. Privacy is an interpersonal boundary-control process, which paces and regulates interaction with others.

2. Privacy can be divided into desired and achieved privacy. Desired privacy refers to the ideal level of interaction with others; how much interaction we desire at a specific moment. Achieved privacy refers to the actual degree of contact that we achieve with others. If achieved privacy is less or more than the desired one a state of imbalance exists; otherwise if the two are equal to one another then an optimum state of privacy exists.

3. As a result of the above one may realise that privacy is an optimising process; the optimum state of privacy is the ideal.

4. Privacy is also a dialectic process. As Altman states “privacy is an interplay of opposing forces – that is, different balances of opening and closing the self to others.” In other words, desired privacy is something relative; sometimes we want to be in the company of others, but other times we want to be left alone.

5. Privacy is an input and output process. Regulating privacy takes place by looking at what comes in and what goes out while interacting with others.

6. Privacy may refer to a variety of social units (individuals, groups of people, families, nations etc.) and their interactions between them.

7. Finally, it is a dynamic process. Privacy boundaries may change over time and in order to analyse privacy it needs to be under continuous observation.

Later on, the author refers to the mechanisms that people use, in order to implement desired levels of privacy. These mechanisms include verbal behaviour (e.g. “keep out!”), nonverbal use of the body, environmental behaviours (e.g. personal space, territory, clothing for approachability) and culturally defined norms and practices (different cultures may have different customs to regulate between public and private).

I would like to point out that things have changed significantly since the ’70s the time when this book was written. The evolution of technology and the birth of the Web have provoked new privacy concerns, which are much more complex than the ones that existed in the ’70s. Apart from our lives our offline, our lives continue online; in the online world the situation regarding privacy is very different than in the offline world. Online there is no physical contact between people and anyone can gain access over someone else’s information. As a result, making use of the above mentioned mechanisms is rather difficult. Apart from that, private information can be available online and stored indefinitely and can be accessed by people at any moment, so none of these mechanisms can be applied in this case.

Written by az4g09 on March 13th, 2010

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