I’ll take being “connected” every time

I'll take being connectedI’m reading with interest (again) how people apparently don’t like what they wrongly view as a big downside of connectivity — the ability of advertisers to track their online behavior. This is a meme so filled with dis- and mis-information that it’s hard to know where to begin. And regardless of the number of times I try to set the record straight (read Jarvis Coffin’s piece today), I really feel I want to talk about the upsides of connectivity, because even if the fearful nonsense that’s sprouted by so-called “privacy advocates” about this were true, I’d still take being connected over not being connected, every time.

I’ve had three big personal events in the last ten years that have shown me a side of human nature brought about by connectivity that I’d simply not encountered before. Each came from having a blog, but that was just the vehicle. What really took place was people working together on behalf of my wellbeing, and that’s not something for me to take lightly.

The first event took place in 2004. I’d been without health insurance for a couple of years and developed a lump in my left breast. I needed surgery but didn’t have the money. Jeff Jarvis convinced me to put a tip jar on my blog and ask for help. I swallowed my pride and did so. To my utter amazement, people came out of the woodwork to help, and I raised almost $4,000. It didn’t cover everything, but it came close, thanks to the generosity of people I didn’t even know.

In April of 2006, my beloved Allie left this world, and I wrote about my sorrow for my blog. My online world was all I knew, and it was there that I turned for comfort. Once again, the outpouring of love was beyond anything I could ever have imagined. People who knew her came to my site to leave messages for me, for anybody to read, a way of saying goodbye to a talented and generous friend. It comforted me more than you’ll ever know, and it changed my life forever.

The following year, CompUSA sold me an empty box instead of one with a camera inside, and they refused to do me right by it. “All sales final” trumped common sense, and I was stunned. So I wrote about it, and the story spread like wildfire. I made the front page of foxnews.com and got worldwide coverage. The next day, CompUSA called me and apologized. They gave me a gift certificate for a new camera, and I was happy with that.

These three lessons paint a picture of what’s possible on the upside of connectivity. There’s an odd form of righteousness that comes with being transparent, of sharing that which is you with the world. It’s why I think we need to be very careful in tampering with hyperconnectivity, and especially in the name of privacy. In modernism’s top-down world, there are good reasons to be private. Power is concentrated in the hands of a few, and the less they know, the better, right? In a connected universe, however, power is scattered, and transparency brings rewards that we can’t even see through our modernist-trained eyes.

We run the danger of setting back human progress by decades if we mess with the connection, regardless of our motives.

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