Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Hoodie: An Allegory for Privacy in a Social Media World

Candid photo from Latvia 2012 I found on Facebook, wearing the grey American Apparel hoodie I've owned for 7+ years. (Photo Credit: Lora Bruton)

This commentary from Tim Maly about Mark Zuckerberg and his hoodie is a fascinating read about the nature of privacy in an increasingly public culture:
Is there a style of garment more iconically late 20th/early 21st century than the hoodie? Worn by CEOs and street kids. Worn by teens who wanna look like cats and rappers who wanna look hard. Worn by punks and skaters and breakdancers and taggers and Occupy protesters and college kids and sports fans. Worn by Rocky Balboa and the Wu-Tang and Ted Kazynski and Paris Hilton and Trayvon Martin and Mark Zuckerberg.

People who know they’re being watched change their behaviour. In a world awash in surveillance devices, hoodies are an element of fashion driven by an architectural condition. They are a response to the constant presence of cameras overhead. People who don’t want to be watched wear them. People who want to be the kind of people who don’t want to be watched wear them. People who want to look like the kind of people who don’t want to be watched wear them. 
It is difficult to imagine a more suitable uniform for the notoriously private CEO of a company dedicated to expanding our ideas of what should be public.

(ht to kottke)

I love hoodies. I own a plethora of them in various colors. Childhood friends will recall that I was rarely found without my black zip-up hoodie, faded to a purplish-grey from so much use. Practical, fashionable, and perfect for the rainy weather of the green-and-grey west coast, hoodies rock.

The hoodie is an image of protecting privacy, instigating revolution, and leveling the sartorialist playing field.

This past Sunday, I had a brief conversation with a group of teen girls about the app Snapchat. They loved it because they could take a random photo of themselves--no matter how embarrassing--and send it to someone, then instantly delete it "forever." The problem? Nothing you post online goes away forever. The Snapchat privacy policy makes it clear that they are storing everything and will use it however it best benefits their investors within the law. (Read this post from my friend Adam McLane about Snapchat, where he recommends that teens use discernment and steer clear.)

What is truly private when family photos can inadvertently show up in Twitter feeds and surveillance cameras capture our every public move? 

What should be our response? Act like a sponge and mindlessly soak up all the social media we can get? Become a funnel and hold a disengaging luddite posture towards all technology and public interaction? Or become a sieve, using wisdom and discernment to carefully navigate the public-private culture we inhabit? 

Can we become hoodie-wearing sieves, knowing when to wear the hood and when to take it off, being our true and authentic selves while maintaining healthy boundaries and safety regarding our public identities?

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