Privacy is the new celebrity
In a recent interview with Fast Company, Ashton Kutcher – the celebrity-turned-Internet-mogel – said that privacy is more valuable than celebrity. This makes sense to me.
On the Internet everyone is a . I think Rebecca Blood was the first person to introduce this concept to me when she said Generation Y manages itself like celebrities online, so privacy is not necessary for them. I think the proof of this is that gen Y prefers communicating via social media rather than email; news travels faster, via larger groups of people.
Marketers and publicists have made a science out of getting benefits from being a celebrity—sponsors, a fun network, great opportunities that lead to even greater opportunities. In the age of transparency Gen Y can see how to do this and they don't need permission from MGM or Capitol Records to act like a celebrity.
I am constantly telling people to get a strong career by managing their professional profile online . The way to a solid career is to be known for what you're good at. All good workers are celebrities—a far cry from Horatio Alger and the Protestant work ethic, but a much more relevant trope for the new millennium.
Pace University reports that 99 percent of Gen Y is on Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn, and Redbook reports that one out of five moms is blogging. In this era, if you're at all relevant in this day and age, you can google your name, and you will find photos, quotes, and some sort of history of your life, in a few lines or a few million lines. If you already have everything that being a celebrity can get you, then you can be private.
I am struck by the way Prince William and Kate Middleton handle the media in England.
The paparazzi are all over Kate, who has been dating William for nine years and is pretty much a lock-in to be the next queen of England. (A testament to how in love the media is with William and Kate: The throne will skip William's father, Charles, because he is so unpopular with the public, and go straight to William.)
William is still livid with the paparazzi because he blames the death of his mom, Princess Diana, on the car chase for photos of her with her date. So after Princess Caroline won a court battle against the paparazzi, William vowed to sue any photographer who violates Kate's right to privacy. To this end, William is well versed in the laws, and Kate is well-versed in conducting herself in a way that exercises her rights on a regular basis.
This is a great video, for example: Kate is with her sister, both are non-royals at an unofficial event, so it is, by law, considered her private life. On video, Kate asserts (in a relatively kind way) that she is not taking her hand from her face because “this is my private life.”
Once she says that, the photographers leave, because it is true that it's private, and they have, officially, violated the law. (Still, William pressured Kate to sue, in an effort to keep the paparazzi in line. She won and gave the money to charity.)
William and Kate can do this because they do not need any benefits as celebrities. They will definitely become king and queen, they definitely know enough people for the rest of their lives and do not need to widen their circle of contacts, and they definitely do not need more money. Celebrity is not valuable to them any longer. Privacy is more valuable.
Royal family member Peter Phillips, on the other hand, is eleventh from the throne and almost a commoner. He needs cash, so he sold the rights to his wedding to Hello! Magazine for roughly million.
The problem is that what he really did was sell privacy. Not just his but William's and Kate's. There were thirteen photos of Kate in Hello!, which did not violate the law because the publication paid for access.
Now, circle back to the commoners of the Internet. Most people making money from the Internet do, in some way, sell their privacy. I remember, for example, hanging out at SXSW with Guy Kawasaki.
We drove around in a limo to a bunch of parties, and everywhere people swarmed to take photos with Guy. I said, “How can you cope with all this?”
He said, “I don't mind it, and anyway, it's my job. And I always remind myself there are way worse jobs than this. At least I'm not a garbage collector.”
He has a point. But still, I ended up sitting in the limo while he went into parties. I needed quiet.
I need quiet, but I am not in a position to guard my privacy like Kate Middleton. I want too much more that mere celebrity status can get me. I want to trade interesting ideas with interesting people. I want to create a constant flow of fun opportunities. I want to write for an audience rather than just for myself. So I have to show myself.
The farmer and I have this conversation all the time: He wants to be with a woman who is intellectual and worldly and who will live on the farm in the boondocks. Very few women would choose this life without being able to make this life better by supporting the family financially. And the way I support myself is writing about myself, and the way I stay engaged in the world is to write about it. Which means I give up my privacy in exchange for being able to live where I want and write about what I want. It seems like a good trade to me.
Did you know that on a farm, dinner is lunch and supper is dinner? The only people who lunch, I guess, are city people. I mix this up all the time and my kids correct me, which is how I imagine it is for immigrants who cannot learn the new language as fast as their children.
Anyway, here is a photo of the farmer and me having dinner on the farm. And it's telling that I share a private moment, of my own volition, because I'm not next in line for the throne.
Video: Celebrity Privacy Rights
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