Monday, July 1, 2013

Sean Parker's do

You may, or may not, have paid attention to Sean Parker's wedding; Alexis Madrical of The Atlantic did, and filed his report: New Government Documents Show the Sean Parker Wedding Is the Perfect Parable for Silicon Valley Excess

Enter Parker. He cut a deal with Ventana to use the previously closed campground exclusively for months. Without a single permit or any real thought about the area's natural components, Parker's crew began to build walls and water effects and fake ruins on the old campground.

Well, Parker felt there was more to discuss, and responded, with an extremely lengthy, and actually quite interesting, article of his own: Weddings Used To Be Sacred And Other Lessons About Internet Journalism.

Parker's article is long, and complex, and thorough; I admit I skimmed a lot of it. Much of it involves the expected defense of his wedding:

I cannot be too hard on Alexis Madrigal, as he was kind enough to read my email, kind enough to apologize, and had the strength of character and journalistic integrity to post my email publicly along with a sort of retraction, something most reporters would be too prideful to do. As I wrote in my response to him, nobody chooses to get married in a redwood forest unless they love redwood forests. Furthermore, our wedding did not take place in a park, on a nature reserve, or on any other form of protected public land. We rented our wedding site from a company operating a luxury hotel, the Ventana Inn & Spa, owned by two multi-billion-dollar private equity firms, both experienced players in California real estate. The site of the wedding was a private, for-profit, vehicular campground, largely paved over in black asphalt, full of compacted dirt, giant holes dug in the forest floor and mounds of dirt piled up around those holes.

This property had been used for events before, including at least one wedding. When we first visited the site, the road-surfacing machines were still laying fresh tarry asphalt across the remaining unpaved parts of the campground, and bulldozers were dredging out camping “pads” for RVs to park in. The entire forest floor was gone, replaced with dirt and asphalt.

To be honest, the details of the wedding don't really matter to me. Rich people arguing about who pays the bill is number 3 or 4 on my list of Most Boring Things Imaginable.

But near the end, it gets quite interesting:

I have often wondered if we’re better off as a society now that the media has “opened up,” with fewer barriers to entry, less friction, and more voices included in the debate. Have the changes wrought by the Internet (broadly) and social media (narrowly) been helpful to civil society, harmful, or some combination of both?

He continues:

I have watched as these new mediums helped foment revolutions, overturn governments, and give otherwise invisible people a voice, and I have also watched them used to extend the impact of real-world bullying from physical interactions into the online world, so kids growing up today can now be tormented from anywhere.


At some point in time everyone, whether they engage actively with these new mediums or not, will experience a violation of their privacy, will find their reputation besmirched publicly, and may even find their sanity challenged by some combination of these factors.

Where does Parker think the solution lies? Surprisingly, he sees government having an important role:

Now that social media has collapsed the traditional media roles of content producer, editor, publisher, and consumer into one and assigned those roles to literally everyone, it’s clear we need to collectively evolve our social norms to reflect this new reality. And wherever you stand on the questions of privacy and the Faustian pact struck between the federal government, technology companies and Congress over digital surveillance, it’s increasingly clear that our legal frameworks for dealing with these new mediums are outmoded at best. It’s natural for innovators, especially those creating entirely new industries, to have a laissez-faire bias, and they are right to think that way.


It is therefore incumbent upon the legislature to craft appropriate boundaries that strike a balance between the valid needs of governmental authorities and the equally valid privacy demands of Internet users.

It takes no great insight to observe the irony in Facebook founders calling for more privacy, a scant three years since we routinely saw articles such as Privacy no longer a social norm, says Facebook founder

The rise of social networking online means that people no longer have an expectation of privacy, according to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Talking at the Crunchie awards in San Francisco this weekend, the 25-year-old chief executive of the world's most popular social network said that privacy was no longer a "social norm".

"People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people," he said. "That social norm is just something that has evolved over time."

It seems to me that, self-serving as it was, at least we should be grateful that Parker's experience has caused him to be at least a bit more sensitive about those of us who think Facebook maybe pushed the "everything we do is public" viewpoint a bit farther than was sensible.

So, don't hate Parker for his wedding: check. Skim through most of the coverage of the event: check. Pay attention to the evolving debate about individual privacy in an always-connected world: check.

In fact, if you want to read something really well-written on the topic, try Moxie Marlinspike's We Should All Have Something To Hide

The more fundamental problem, however, is that living in an existing social structure creates a specific set of desires and motivations in a way that merely talking about other social structures never can. The world we live in influences not just what we think, but how we think, in a way that a discourse about other ideas isn’t able to. Any teenager can tell you that life’s most meaningful experiences aren’t the ones you necessarily desired, but the ones that actually transformed your very sense of what you desire.

Let's keep the discussion going.

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