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In 'Public Parts' Jeff Jarvis Reveals That He Doesn't Have Much of a Filter

Mark W. Smith
Detroit Free Press (MCT)
Jeff Jarvis

Jeff Jarvis works methodically to unravel long-held beliefs about why openness online is dangerous.

Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: 272 pages
Author: Jeff Jarvis
Price: $26.99
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2011-09

Jeff Jarvis doesn’t have much of a filter.

A self-described Internet optimist, Jarvis has made a name for himself online as a prolific blogger and Twitter user, often taking corporations and governments to task for assaults, as he sees them, on the openness of the Internet.

“I am so mad at an extremely large Internet company right now that I could spit,” he posted to Twitter last week. “More later.”

In Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live, Jarvis offers a persuasive and personal look at why sharing things publicly on the Web should become the norm. It makes us better and makes the Web more usable, he argues.

When Jarvis underwent surgery in 2009 for prostate cancer, he blogged about many of the more sensitive details. Catheters, adult diapers and Viagra were all fair game.

What followed, Jarvis writes, was a sea of advice from commenters who had undergone the same procedure.

This experience crystallized Jarvis’ belief that we should share more online, not less.

Jarvis, a professor at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, has long been pushing the privacy boundaries. And it’s easy to call him an unnervingly honest over-sharer.

But Jarvis works methodically in Public Parts to unravel long-held beliefs about why openness online is dangerous.

To do this, he spends a lot of time looking back, placing today’s privacy fears in the context of historical game-changers — such as the printing press — that also caused widespread fear.

The advent of the camera, Jarvis writes, was met with fear as people worried that the ability to turn their likeness into a permanent photograph was a dangerous invasion of privacy.

Now, of course, we smile when we see a camera trained in our direction. (Tag me on Facebook!)

Jarvis’ message of openness will be provocative to many, but what he explores is only the beginning of a revolution that will continue to change how we use the Web — and how the Web uses us.

“The changes brought on by the Internet today already appear huge in the mirror, but we are still early in this revolution,” Jarvis writes. “We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Through the connections we make, the things we post and the sites we visit, we begin to create a Web that is formatted and presented according to our interests and desires.

That creates an identity. It’s something companies online are working very hard to capture. It’s the reason Google recently launched a social network, Google+. Google wants to know who you are and who your friends are, so it can serve you more relevant advertising.

Revealing ourselves on the Web isn’t so scary, Jarvis argues.

Many of you are reading this in the print newspaper. But a growing number found it online, not because you were necessarily looking for it, but because a friend shared the link. (My thanks to your friend, by the way.)

Or, in the non digital world, imagine a shopping mall of the future that uses technology to log which stores we enter and which items we spend ten minutes thinking of buying.

Maybe the next time we enter that shopping mall, a week later, our smartphone is sent a coupon for that very item we fretted over.

Relevant. Powerful. Useful.

Focusing on fear, Jarvis writes, will close us off to a world that is built just for us.

Public Parts is a decided challenge to those who fear where we’re already headed. It’s an important book, and one that, if read with an open mind, could change a lot of minds.

Even so, Jarvis must know his message will be met with detractors.

There are certainly those who want sites like Facebook and services like Google to know much less about us.

But the best defense, Jarvis argues, is a good offense — sharing more, not less. Doing so will allow the Web to capture a more clear picture of who you are.

“If that makes you uneasy, talk with your shrink,” Jarvis writes. “Better yet, blog about it.”


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