If there is one thing that the Justine Sacco AIDS tweet fiasco has proven, is that there is a marked erosion of the clear border between the private and public spheres. This blurring was put most succinctly by the media theorist Clay Shirky, who said that the internet was “not a public sphere” but a “private sphere that tolerates public speech”.
But this blurring of the Public-Private divide, and very often the invasion of the latter by the former, was something that was taking place long before the arrival of social media. George Orwell had in the 1940s already depicted a world in which every nook and cranny of private space was subject to the scrutiny of public authorities. As government has become more subservient to the interests of commerce as the twentieth century rolled into the twenty-first, we see another kind of invasion of privacy via the corporate stand-ins for government.
Writing in the New York Times, Matthew Crawford wrote about a trend whereby private attention and quiet have become commodified spaces that commercial interests have filled with the din of advertising. With every interval, break and transition in both public and private intercourse being turned into an opportunity to push a product, it has now become impossible for people to have a moment of quietude. What is more concerning is that with the commodifcation of quiet, comes the opportunity to turn quiet into a privilege that only a monied few can enjoy – Crawford cites the example of luxury airline lounges, which stand as the sole bastion of silence amidst the din of advertising in airports.
What this points to is just one example whereby we are seeing emerge a new feudal order whereby even quiet has become a luxury item. This is to be contrasted with the Benedictine monastic version of quietude, in that whilst it is a privileged few who produce the space of quietude, that space was nonetheless made available to all via the Benedictine practice of hospitality.