On the End of Privacy:
Learning to Read, Write, and Think in the 21st Century


When I started text2cloud in 2010, I wanted to take a break from academic writing. I was coming off two terms as department chair and I wanted to invent a new future for myself–as a writer, as a writing teacher, and as a thinker.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about, exactly, but I knew that I wanted to focus on how the act of writing was being transformed by the fact that everyone with a smart phone could instantly publish anything that they could see, hear, or think.

Early that fall semester, the local paper reported that two students at my university had been charged with using a webcam to spy on another student. Then it was reported that Tyler Clementi, the student who had been spied on, had committed suicide. Although I hadn’t intended to, I spent the next five years writing about this suicide and the issues it raised–about voyeurism, curiosity, privacy, pornography, and the law. My writing took me into areas I knew little about and corners of the web I never knew existed. I learned how to pay attention to unofficial news sources; I learned how to edit video and audio; I learned how easy it is to manipulate digital information. And I learned how difficult it is to keep anything private once it has been put into digital form–as a tweet, a text, an email, a photo, a video, an audio recording.

I’ve spent the past year organizing, reflecting on, revising, and rethinking the first drafts I’d produced over the previous six years. I wanted to think about the end of privacy and what is happening to our world now that thought’s final destination is no longer assumed to be paper. It seemed urgent to me that educators, legislators, law enforcement, parents–everyone–take the time to see the significance of this change. I knew it was important, but even so, I didn’t foresee the election of a president who doesn’t read and relies on Twitter to broadcast his need for attention.

I’m in the early stages of looking for a publisher, having moved the multimedia writing I did on text2cloud back into print-only form. It’s been an amazing experience going from text to cloud and back to text again. I’ll keep you posted, should there be developments on the publication front. In the meantime, here’s the Table of Contents, which traces the arc of my reflections.

Preface: Goodbye to All That 1-16
Chapter One: On Chance, Distraction, and the Prepared Mind 17-41
Chapter Two: On Recovering the Deleted Past 42-74
Chapter Three: On Willful Ignorance 75-106
Chapter Four: On the Private Pleasures of Looking 107-131
Chapter Five: On Getting Caught in the Act 132-163
Chapter Six: On the Digital Cameras at Abu Ghraib 164-186
Chapter Seven: On Virtual Communities and Embodied Realities 187-217
Chapter Eight: On Viewing Parties 218-249
Chapter Nine: On Suicide 250-280
Chapter Ten: On Fault-Finding 281-310
Chapter Eleven: On Guilt 311-345
Chapter Twelve: On Meaningfulness 346-382

Note: the cover art is by Rob Miller.


July 25, 2017

Share your thoughts.

%d bloggers like this: