AKIE BERMISS: Privacy is not dead! Not by any means — to say so is to cry fire in a crowded theater. You see, the trouble is privacy COULD be dead at any moment. It takes only a few ideal conditions to be met and few of the wrong kinds of people to be at the helm when they do and suddenly: there’s no such thing as privacy. These days its not that privacy is dead, not even that its really become so much of a privilege either (for those who would argue that the wealthy and powerful are the only ones who can afford to maintain privacy) — but rather its become a responsibility. And for us here in America, that’s a new thing.
Before the advent of internet and smartphones and social networking websites, human life was very different. I sometimes think look at my office desk and wonder why it feels so odd and I realize that all my life I’d seen important people sitting behind their desks… with a rolodex. There used to be a whole thing about getting someone’s name and number, company and job title, maybe a home number or an extension if you were in the inner circle. Nowadays, if I want to call my friend at work, I don’t have to go through channels. I call him on his cellphone. That way it stays off the company grid. If he’s being watched too closely for that, we can send texts back and forth. I can communicate with someone with better efficacy than we’d ever had in the early 90s — and, quite literally, all day long without knowing more than their cell number. That’s different!
Nowadays, trying to dodge collection/credit companies is a real hassle. It used to be very simple. They had your home phone and they had to catch you at home. They certainly couldn’t be expected to get you at work! And being able to snoop around and find out that kind of information was what MADE the the collection companies so fearsome. They were relentless — they’d find out your work number, talk their way past the switchboard, and go right to your private extension. Terrifying! These days, they just keep calling your cell-phone. No matter where you are — they’ve got you.
These are two examples of how modern technology has broken down barriers between people (and organizations). Depending on your perspective one may be good, the other may be bad. But there is no arguing that the perpetual state of availability has changed our culture deeply in the last 15 or so years. I remember being mortified that I had to call my girlfriend in High School at home in order to talk sweet nothings with her. Today, kids can talk on their cellphones. Or, if parents are too vigilant, they can use Skype or GoogleTalk to speak with each other. There’s no fear of having negotiation my girlfriends mother, her father, and her two older brothers before anybody gave her the phone.
And I think that’s an improvement.
On the other hand, with every person having so many points of contact the increase in personal command also leads to great weakness where maintaining privacy is concerned. Like I said, I had to get through three or four people to get to my girlfriend back in High School. If I were someone trying to cause trouble or harass her I would most certainly have been found out and taken care of. And had my phone access to her denied. In the bright future of 2010, her parents may stop me from calling the landline, but can they stop me from calling on the cell. From texting? From Instant Messaging? From posting her on Facebook wall?
I think not.
But that doesn’t mean the privacy is dead! Rather that it must be more actively maintained. If we view privacy as a RIGHT, we should actively engage ourselves in its preservation. Is not all technology an attack of some sort on humanity? We create the state and we lose our ability to own whatever we want — to be whomever we desire. We create locomotion and, while improving our ability to cover greater distances, we lose our ability to walk where ever we want and how ever we’d like. Industry and construction got us in out of the elements, but it forced us all to reacquaint ourselves with the space around us. To enjoy the fruits of industry, we have to subject ourselves to the specialization of role-playing so that the giant machine keeps running. And, yes, communication allows us to depend on each other no matter our location, to call on one another instantly, to inform one another in great detail in real-time. We need never be alone. But also it means we may never actually be alone.
One must stand up for those things which one believes to be important. Even in the face of technological advancement, we have to defend those things which we believe are important parts of being human and important part of being, well, free. We created the state which governs us, but we built into its foundation the leverage of the common citizen to defend him or herself. We drive cars, ride trains, fly planes — but we also confine those technological wonders to very particular places when they are being used. We build up the cities, but we made sure to keep certain areas clear of modernization, to preserved the natural landscape and allow people to walk freely through it. And yes, industry is still king (those he grows weary of ruling) but we have learned to prevent it from completely controlling our lives. We work during business hours — and the rest of our time is SUPPOSED to be hours.
The same is true of privacy. We are more connected than ever. And by more ways than ever. But we should, therefore, be that much more conscious of what we promote of ourselves. And what we choose to hold back. We have to readjust perceptions to see that physical barriers are no longer the things that divide us. With greater ability, comes greater responsibility. Now it is the will of the individual which dictates what is public and what is private. We have to be discriminating in the organizations we choose to interact with and represent. Some will keep our information private, others will sell it for quick cash. One must be informed. One must be aware.
One final example — when I was growing up, if someone got engaged, or married, or went on vacation, or broke-up with their girlfriend, we found out about it through channels. Joe Blow may’ve been single for a while before we all heard that he and Jane had separated. Maybe you found out because a friend of a friend’s friend got hit on by Joe at a singles dance at the local Y. Maybe you ran into Joe at the bar and he was making out with some too-young co-ed. Whatever the case may’ve been: we found out as quickly as word traveled from place to place. There was no huge, instant, and sprawling network to give us that kind of information as its happening. Just as in a room fool of people, if you’re not at the epicenter of some particular bit of action you may not know what’s going on for quite sometime. Information passes through the crowd from person-to-person, getting diluted and altered and ambiguated along the way. Now, when my friends get engaged I know about it within a few seconds of them posting it to facebook, or twitter, or sending out and email blast to their entire mailing list. Those sorts of things are possible now. Now we all know at the same time. That has its advantages. Mass hysteria and mystery are hard to maintain, but also: mass hysteria and mystery are hard to maintain, so…
I guess what I’m saying is: privacy ain’t dead. Its just not as easy as it use to be. You’ve got to fight for it now.