One of my favorite phrases! And danah’s taken it up, which gets me to thinking: architecture isn’t deterministic of behavior, but it does create the context in which behavior occurs. If everyone could look in their neighbors’ windows without fear of being seen, a lot more people would do so than currently do. People don’t look in their neighbors’ windows because they’re afraid of getting caught – by those neighbors upon whom they’d be spying, but also by their other neighbors or passers-by, who can see them spying. The latter might even be worse, but fundamentally it’s all about the wonderful social power of shame.
On the Internet, of course, not only does nobody know you’re a dog, nobody knows if you’re a voyeuristic dog – not the object of your observation or the rest of your online village. And I’m not saying that they *should* – but I think it’s worth being conscious of the effects that architecture has on humans. If we can’t introduce shame through fear of exposure of voyeurism – which in the end is just a societal convention – something else will take its place, some other way to flip the finger at the creep staring through your living room window.
I certainly don’t think that people are going to decide to not have fun, or teenagers acquire the judgment (that they’re, y’know, mostly biologically incapable of exercising) or perspective to not act in ways that someone, somewhere might find inappropriate. So what will happen – slowly, as most broad social changes do, but inexorably – is that what’s “embarrassing” will shift. If there are drunken photos of, I dunno, 160 million Americans out on the Internet, that’s hardly something that a future employer can get into a huff about. Especially if there’s one of… them.
But this is a small point – more important is a broad shift in the kinds of information and cues that are and will be instantly (or nearly) available about anyone that we know or meet. We’re curious, so we’ll probably look, but knowing the foibles (or secretly interesting facets) of everyone we care to won’t, in the end, drive us to become vastly more paranoid or secretive. We’re going to have to become more tolerant of all manner of difference because we won’t be able to turn away from it or ignore it. We’ll just have to live with the fact that people are all strange, interesting little creatures, and try to figure out how to get along with each other.