Privacy in the Age of Living Publicly

Posted by 
in General
14 November 2009

So here’s what I don’t quite understand, and am reaching out here for ideas, explanations, hints even for setting this dilemma straight for me.
Two equally rapidly growing trends, in seemingly directly opposing directions, are becoming more and more evident in recent years. The one is to do with the way we’re using technology daily in more mobile and, more to my point, more public spaces.

The laptop now far exceeds the stationary desktop computer and is commonly the tool of choice in my regrettable traveling salesman role. Cell phones are being taken into, and answered in, bathroom stalls in airport terminals and office lavatories as much as in our own homes (you know who you are) and the joyous sound of the flushing on the other end of the conversation is one we’re inexplicably getting used to hearing. Our personal life stories, mundane and boring as they typically are, are splattered all over the web-sphere courtesy of Facebook and the more “professional network” LinkedIn. And Twitter - the digital equivalent of farting very quietly in a full elevator - now allows us to think out loud and “be followed” by the masses of lurking strangers who seemingly care what we think on most any topic at any given moment. And we’re signing up for this stuff and eating it up faster than they can publish the weekly tabloids at the supermarket counters. (by the way, with Twitter dictating a whole new speed of thought, isn’t it time to invent a twice-weekly tabloid magazine. I mean really, what do these celebs do during the week in between publications?) Our very private affairs are being shared in the most public ways regularly and willingly! Have we really always been closet exhibitionists and voyeurs and just now taking full advantage of these technologies to come out and share, share, share? Not too long ago I had to listen to a lady talk to someone whom I deduced was a close relative -somewhere between a daughter in-law and a close cousin I imagined – and give her 50 minutes worth of “self help” advice. The setting was a president’s lounge, but one of the very small ones in a non-hub airport to this airline, where maybe 20 people could sit around comfortably for a free pre-flight drink, catch the paper and maybe find someone to chat with as we all prepared happily for the weekend at home. But no, dear little Mrs. Know-it-all had to console and impart life lessons on her obviously ailing relative. Like many of her generation - some of whom are still getting used to not having to actually turn a dial on the telephone - our uplifting consultant and confidant held her very private conversation at about 95db, in a closed room of about 15 x 12 ft in size. Granted, some of what she had to say I would have actually taken seriously, however under the circumstances I couldn’t hardly overcome my compulsion to shove the tiny cell phone in her glass of Bloody Mary, let alone take note of her advice. Not only was she holding a very private conversation in a very public place, with a bunch of strangers hanging on to her every loud word, but she was also disturbing and taking away much of what we were trying to achieve when we purchased the $300 a year membership which was a place to QUIETLY, privately relax. The counter-trend confuses me no less, particularly in light of the above “nothing is private anymore” phenomenon: An explosion of “safety” and “privacy” products and technologies. Laptops now come with a variety of privacy options, from biometric fingerprint recognition slots, to privacy screen protectors, to security USB dongles. Backup gear is sold by the terabytes and data recovery businesses are booming (I was recently offered a $600 service by the good folks at Best Buy’s Geek Squad to send my crashed laptop HDD for such a service). Cell phone applications allow us to track them if they’re lost, erase their data content remotely, and locking mechanisms that need unlocking before we ever make that very private call in a very public place.
The internet, that vast wilderness with its variety of dangers lurking at every corner, that beast too can be tamed through parental authorizations, secure spaces, firewalls, encryption codes and anti-virus applications. And in the end, what I’m trying to get to is that maybe we go back to relying on our common sense about how we use our technologies. Because we’re just a click away from posting naked pictures of ourselves on YouTube or on our Facebook page, doesn’t mean we can truly later claim indecent use of our private lives when it comes back to bite us on the exposed behind (yes, you Ms. Hilton)? If we are going to share our life lessons and advice in the lounge with a bunch of strangers, is it then not acceptable or decent for the captive audience to chime in and comment on said advice? Would “rude” now apply to dear loud Auntie or to the in-chiming audience? Don’t be deceived by the intolerable convenience of technology and believe that just because you’re talking about private matters into your tiny cell phone on the train, others cannot hear what you’re saying – we hear you! And we don’t like it! Now excuse me – I need to adjust my privacy screen so I can write my next Facebook entry…

Last modified on Tuesday, 05 January 2010 22:04