What is happening is the superimposition of publicy on top of, and partly obscuring, privacy. Those raised in this brave new world are already living in a cultural context based on publicy, and therefore they are running afoul of social conventions based on privacy. That’s why young people find job offers rescinded when pictures of drunken or naked pictures are discovered on their Facebook pages. Their prospective employers are judging their actions from a privacy-based attitude, in which the facets of an online self are averaged, instead of being considered as a constellation of selves. Publicy says that each self exists in a particular social context, and all such contracts are independent.
Some will dismiss my theorizing as a simple reprise of cultural relativism, making the case that all cultures can only be understood in their own cultural terms. I am making part of that case, in essence, by saying that the mores inherent in online social contracts are self-defined, and any individual’s participation in a specific online public does not have to be justified in a global way, any more than the cultural mores of the Berber Tuaregs need to be justified from the perspective of modern Western norms.
What strikes me as slightly off-kilter about this future is that these new publics are defined by tools like Twitter, Facebook, and Gowalla, and those tools are the bedrock for the most active social spaces.