Public Parts: A Personal Review

Jeff Jarvis, Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age is Revolutionizing Life, Business, and Society. Simon & Schuster, 2011.

I had been looking forward to this book for months. When it came out, I was glad I didn’t have to camp in front of a bookstore to get my copy — it was delivered wirelessly to my e-reader a few seconds after publication. And yet, having read it, I cannot deny a mild sense of disappointment.

I feel a bit like a choir being preached to. I’m on Twitter, on Facebook, on Google+, and a host of other online services. I publish my precise physical location online, and I’ve got my own blog. I haven’t yet written about my penis online, but would feel little restraint doing so, if the occasion arose. Oh, and perhaps I should mention I’m German and am quite comfortable sitting naked in the sauna.

Whenever a new service comes out that suggests to make further parts of my life public, my initial feeling is not so much one of anxiety, but rather of curiousity. I’m eager to try things out.

So maybe I’m not quite the intended audience of the book, which might be those who are still tip-toeing into the new kind of public sphere that is developing, or those who are critical of it.

Alas, I don’t think this works. In my experience, irrespective of age, social background, or even culture, people fall squarely into two camps: those who are curious about publicness, and try things out, and those who are not. If someone belongs to the second camp, I have found that no reasoning whatsoever, no carefully compiled list of advantages, and no enthusiasm could persuade them to venture into publicness beyond a half-hearted first attempt that quickly fades.

»It is futile to try and explain a thought to someone for whom a hint is not enough«, said Nicolás Gómez Dávila. And one of my German Twitter acquaintances quipped: »The digital divide is not between us and those who don’t get it, it is between us and those who couldn’t care less.«

I would, therefore, consider it still very much up in the air whether the desire to share, which Jarvis so enthusiastically celebrates in his book, is really a fundamental human instinct that is only inhibited because we did not grow up in an environment that enabled it, or whether it is just a trait of a rather limited group of people.

For those like me who are in the publicness camp, the book is what Germans might call a »Konsensschmöker« — a tome of consent. It is exciting to read, not least because it kindles one’s sense of being part of all sorts of fascinating developments, the outcome of which we probably cannot even begin to imagine. »We ain’t seen nothing yet«, as Jarvis exclaims. And he quotes Leah Marcus with what became one of my favorite passages: »Renaissances happen by infrequently enough that they should be enjoyed in the process. I, for one, await the Cyberspace Renaissance with great interest, and hope to live to see its zenith.«

This nicely sums up the spirit of the book. Unfortunately, beyond this enthusiasm, it offered little additional food for thought to me.

One thought on “Public Parts: A Personal Review

  1. Das sind dezidierte Gedanken und aktuelle Betrachtungen am Rand einer sozialen und medialen Revolution, deren Folgen wir noch kaum absehen können. > two camps: those who are curious about publicness, and try things out, and those who are not.Aber warum so "dualistisch"?! Ist es nicht vielmehr ein Kontinuum zwischen ((re)konstruierten) Polen?Oder – weil man ja z.B. auch neugierig der Sache gegenüber sein kann, ohne gleich mitzumachen – sogar ein 2D-Koordinatensystem?! (Von der Veränderbarkeit solcher Einstellungen ganz abgesehen.)Und: Wer sich E-publiziert, tut das noch lange nicht notwendig aus Gründen (gar altruistischen) "Teilens". Es gibt – ob "camp" oder "Pol" am anderen Ende eines Kontinuums … – ja auch die aufmerksamkeitsheischenden Publicity-Süchtigen, denen es in erster Linie um ihr Ego, nicht eine Sache geht. (Du gehörst dezidiert nicht dazu.) Darum ja das viele wichtigtuerische Geschrei überall.

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