If a mobile phone with “privacy features” can enhance your feeling of private space, it is not true old-fashioned privacy, but instead something like e-privacy, a completely different relationship that receives it’s name out of shallow resemblance.
For example, if you disconnect all your gadgets and run away from civilization, you don’t face the same circumstance that your grand-grand-father was facing when he was out, riding his horse, in the middle of nowhere. You are not into the time-before-connections, you are simply in the same connectedness space, doing a very active, very meaningful, very conscious statement. You are overtly closing connections. You are trying to get yourself some e-privacy.
Now, e-privacy is not panacea. In fact, it is painfully obvious that it is ineffective medicine.
In a “edenic” scenario, that is, in a mythic unrealistic “beginning of times” scenario, it is not privacy that need to be made, it is publicity. You need to shout to be heard by the whole tribe, you need an organized series of meetings for all shareholders to know what your enterprise is doing, you need government to make society have an idea of being a “people”.
In another scenario, this time not prehistoric, but pre-communication (which probably is also somehow a myth), the limits between public and private are controlled by convention and habit. The size and placement of the rooms in a house are such that the neighbors can’t hear what’s discussed at the dinner table but the brothers listen when the sister farts at night. And so on.
If an annoying friend-wannabe really insists to talk to you at this cantinna when all you really want is to impress the young lady you’re having a coffee with, this is also a problem of privacy. Clearly, one not really having anything to do with “new media”. But i think the issues are the same.
I think it is dangerous to assume the differences lie only in the details of the technology used to communicate. For example, if you received a mobile phone call that included a “subject line” informing you what is the matter to be dealt with, it would still be a phone call. It would be just as annoying. And just as troublesome to manage.
Now where i think the issue is: in the complex of people and communication media. That is, not in the mobile phone, not in the annoying friend-wannabes, not in the habits of handling digital equipment, but in the system that is formed by all of this. Now this doesn’t help much, i know, but it’s my starting point.
So, to build e-privacy (or e-privateness) it would not suffice to deal with only one of those three elements.
If you simply find better tools (to enable the mobile-phone-owner to deal with the nuisances of everyday communications) you end up in a “race against spam”. This is inevitable, to a certain extent, but it narrows our perspective. We need tools, but they have to be part of a bigger schema.
On the other hand, you can make all kinds of rules for communications, and establish “best practices”, but people use their connections in a free and improvising manner. In other words, the incentive to be lazy does not go away. People always end up doing things that go against “electronic literacy”. Communications are not rule-based mechanisms, they are improvisation.
Now if you can come up with ideas that somehow involve more than one of those ingredients i guess you have bigger chances of, at least, making something unpredictable.
My best guesses would involve ideas like those.
Instead of making walls around privacy, try to do creative things with the holes that already exist in these walls. Instead of enhancing privacy, make everything public by default. Instead of hiding things, put them all in the open, in the front. That means that privacy will always be an active stance instead of being taken for granted. This means that people will have to deal with their privacy. They will put energy into it. Ignorance should diminish. Passive-security (always a recipe for disaster) will have to be replaced.
Deal with the subjectivity of communications, and not only with concrete, objective, direct issues. Think of strange, confusing and confused, idiosyncratic, stupid, unpredictable people — instead of median reasonable competent mobile-users. Expect unexplained (and unexplainable) actions. Try to play with moods. Do not depend on people being serious or responsible — preferably open up space for them being playful and ridiculous.
Craft systems that don’t replace already existing systems. Cannibalize them from within. Reshape those systems, not with addition, but with structurally meaningful concepts. Criticize. Subvert. Avoid every type of “bad” and “good” thinking. Explore explosive mixes of already existing components, or even better, design components to make existing pieces explosive. Use the system instead of fighting it.