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The Internet, and other modern horrors

Perhaps in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of blogging, Guy Gavriel Kay has a piece in this past weekend’s Globe and Mail Books section about the perils facing authors in the digital age.

Gavriel Kay has a strong Web following himself and has been known to write blog-like diaries in conjunction with book tours, but that doesn’t mean he likes any of it. Overall, he believes the proliferation of chatter online has led to a decline in privacy.

For some of us, no context is “limited” any longer. That is the point I’m offering for consideration. And “some of us” can be pretty extensive. This isn’t about Brad Pitt or Amy Winehouse. Ask any high school student whose pratfall is recorded by a classmate’s camera phone and posted to YouTube. Or the microcelebrity (a nice term I first saw in Wired magazine) snapped while at a party looking less-than-sober, with the photo online immediately, to derision-inducing effect.

We are, in other words, always “on” now, at least potentially, always in a wider public than might appear to be the case, and it compels adjustments, and some regret.

Here, for example, is how he reacted when approached by four Yale students “with questions about other writers and their books”:

And I looked at them and “saw” four blogs, with links to a plenitude of others. Given the ease of searching blogs now – for my name, or those of the queried writers – it was suddenly impossible to treat this as a quiet exchange of thoughtful literary opinion. I was as careful as a politician in a scrum, all of us with teacups in hand in a beautiful room.

Now, Gavriel Kay may have a general point about the erosion of privacy in the wired world. But it’s difficult to understand his timid reaction given the students’ benign and unpersonal line of questioning. After all, a writer’s “thoughful literary opinion” is unlikely to come back to haunt him, even if it is circulated online. As Martin Amis pointed out in a recent essay, “What you say about something is never your last word on any subject.” Fear of being overheard certainly hasn’t kept Amis from running his mouth.