Is there, or should there be, an ethics of making public — of tweeting, Facebooking, pulling a fact from the seen-with-one’s-own-eye to the iterative terrain of the internet? The British Library, from whence this despatch is issued, has seen a bizarre raft of late-summer celebrity sightings, both intellectual and televisual. As far as we can see, announcing this information is one of the very raisons d’être of Twitter (yes, in our minds, Twitter can have more than one; sod it), but is this the wrong thing to do? It does feel unseemly in the happy camaraderie of this excellent place: if you were [famous person it would be now hyper hypocritical to name], would you want someone tweeting that you are sitting there, looking a little worse for the wear, looking at cricinfo while Deleuze & Guattari books are heaped untouched about you?
Is the argument that just because someone has entered the public eye, they have become public property, and their whereabouts/research interests/fashion choices can be broadcast to the world? Obviously this question extends far into territory bordering on Max Clifford’s tentacled remit, and becomes rightly controversial given the use of publicly circulated images to identify ‘looters’ (or in some cases, people just near the looting; in still others, people [apparently] kissing), but let’s shut down the parameters east of Euston Station and west of King’s Cross: at what point does it become acceptable to tweet about someone? Or do we know it’s wrong, but we do it anyway?
The DLR would like to believe, contra the reactionary press, that there is a line between public and private that has not eroded — but we do seem to easily let celebrities become objects in our eyes. Wooooeeee we’ve seen one! Let’s kick it about. Perhaps that’s not about the public/private distinction but rather a general inability to comprehend the notion of celebrity on the scale it has now reached; much like the inability to really understand what it means to borrow a sum of hundreds of thousands of pounds, which insane people do all the time for a mortgage (or other large numbers, as Stalin helpfully pointed out). The idea of being famous to a degree where everyone knows your name, your body parts are insured and minute details about your love life/addictions/cellulite/sexual habits are captured and broadcast incessantly is, strictly speaking, inhumane: it is not part of what was, until the advent of regular television broadcasting 75 years ago, possible. That is, it’s technological rather than humanistic, and that might be one reason why one reacts to celebrity not with empathy but with a slight antagonism, as one does to new technologies: [person I sadly still can’t name] is in a certain sense a thing to us; only the open page on Andrew Strauss turns him back into a non-tweetable person again.
The ethics, however, of making regular people around you — captured on a camera-phone, uploaded to the web — seem murkier, but then everything is murkier away from the British Library’s desk lamps.