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Sn 3 - Ep 9

LIQUID PRIVACY
by
Ingo Niermann
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Instead of turning the globe into one great village, social media has fractured it into countless different community particles that are most often hostile or indifferent to each other. The only ones making connections are the AI systems of intelligent agencies and big corporations. We have lost our privacy and are lonelier than ever, even as we cohabitate in increasingly congested cities: we encounter more and more people, but we rarely talk to them or look them in the eye.

Humans used to live in hordes. With strangers we instinctively adhere to a safety zone. Our demand for personal space expands with anxiety – we have to feel safe before we let others in. We have to secure our privacy to avoid resentment and xenophobia.

The next trillion-dollar enterprise won’t be about connecting but about keeping distance. While social media allows us to get in contact without any effort wherever we are, this endeavor will allow us to be by ourselves – without any effort, wherever we are. Our very own bubble will be protected from observation or interference from people and entities that are not explicitly invited. To all others we will become a black box. We won’t be heard or seen.

The libertarian understanding of the internet that dominated in the golden era of social media follows the conception of the open sea outlined in Hugo Grotius’s Mare Liberum (1609). The internet was supposed to be just as infinite and free as the open sea once seemed to be. Cyber-anarchists founded “pirate” parties. Cyber-capitalists evaluated the “seasteading” of offshore pirate villages. Cyber-subculture went “sea punk.” But today, the sea is increasingly crowded. Even underwater, drones endanger our privacy.

On the sea, there is no place to hide beyond the outlines of one’s vessel. Here it’s even more urgent to establish a new mode of privacy. And in fact, it’s easier. On international waters most vessels are already on autopilot, monitored via an automatic identification system. It doesn’t require too much computation to keep boats at a proper distance from one another by smoothly altering their speed and direction.

This liquid privacy can also be applied to keep boats away from certain sea animals or to keep predators and their prey at distance. Both receive signals to shy away from each other. Instead, the predators are lured to artificial prey and the prey to birth control. The sea could become a place where Jainism is not just a personal practice but a general disposition. The ocean could turn truly common – and not just for humankind. An advanced system able to deal with traffic, housing, and vegetation could navigate human and nonhuman interaction on the whole planet. Nobody would possess anything unless they used it.

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