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On Thursday, September 24, Jean Tirole joined Markus’ Academy for a lecture on public and private spheres and the authentic self. Jean Tirole is honorary chairman of the Foundation JJ Laffont-Toulouse School of Economics (TSE), scientific director of TSE-Partnership, and a 2014 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics.

Watch the full presentation below and download the slides here. You can also watch all Markus’ Academy webinars on the Markus’ Academy YouTube channel.

Executive Summary

While the key factors that motivate human behavior haven’t changed, social media alters how we act by exposing more of what we do to the broader public. Tirole’s research stresses that human behavior is driven by a) extrinsic motivation (for example earning money) (b) intrinsic motivation (our internal drive to be a good person) and (c) our desire to project a positive self image to society-at-large. But as the tech revolution makes previously private activities visible to the broader public, we change our behavior to earn approval from those whose judgment we value.

Our public spheres are growing—making our private sphere visible to a larger audience—but the expansion is not random. We are biased toward like-minded and caring individuals.

As our public spheres grow, we see a decline in authentic behavior by individuals. Because individuals seek approval of others, they behave better than they otherwise might if their behavior wasn’t visible.

As more of what we do becomes public, people increasingly focus their good behavior on publicly observable activities while private activities become more egoistic or less socially desirable. When thinking about behavior change, Tirole stresses the importance of considering that people do several “tasks” at once. Some of what we do is public, while other tasks or activities remain private.

Tirole’s new research asks how theory can shed light on the design of privacy practices and how we think about private space. The project is partially motivated by whether we should be concerned when platforms collect data on us. How will this alter the nature of our social relationships, and will the change be desirable? The paper is an unpublished work-in-progress.