Posted by: spacewritinguy | November 18, 2007

Privacy in the Digital Age

I headed for a different node of the blogosphere to write things more or less anonymously. However, I quickly discovered where my “true self” could be revealed just by not reading the fine print carefully enough. I can make adjustments, but I’m sure other errors or simple writing habits will give me away eventually.

Privacy seems to be a distinctly 20th century phenomenon. Or maybe just pre-internet? With governments, businesses, and gosh knows who-else collecting more and more information about us, the ability to be alone with one’s thoughts is becoming more and more difficult. I find it interesting how the internet allows people to be simultaneously anonymous and conspicuous. For the determined searcher, anyone’s information can be found, even if it costs money to find it. For the unwary, a 23-year-old co-ed could in fact be a 50-year-old sex fiend named Ed. And younger people seem to think nothing of posting their name, address, and date of birth on Facebook, which strikes me as criminally stupid. But then so is divorcing your wife because you caught her cheating in an internet dating site…where you were trolling for dates under an assumed name as well.

But it’s not just the internet breaking down privacy. Television has become a confessional of the most sordid kind; but what the hell, tell everyone your sad story about the tortured childhood that led you to kill your wife, and you will be forgiven on the talk show circuit. Why this mass exhibitionism? The desire for fame, apparently. You no longer get Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame–more like 15 seconds, before the next story appears on the crawler or the teleprompter–but now the fame is worldwide. What attention hound could resist?

But then here I am: no longer content to vent my spleen in my private papers, I have moved my meandering thoughts to the internet. If a person lives and dies without a blog, does anyone hear? And the ironical part is that I moved over to WordPress because my real-name self was on the verge of saying things the bosses wouldn’t like. But I can’t keep them to myself enough not to write them. Who the hell am I to complain about lack of privacy?

But then I’d take wealth any day over the type of fame the Hollywood celebrities endure. If one went by the supermarket tabloids, one would assume that Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Jennifer Anniston are the three most important people on Earth. Every public moment is captured, every expression analyzed, every story spun to provide the maximum drama: look at what these famous, beautiful are doing! It must be important!

People always talk about what they’d do if they won the lottery. Number one on my list, after doing my requisite public appearance(s), would be to find a decent lawyer and accountant to see what I could do about getting the hell out of sight. It isn’t that difficult, really. Assuming I played Lotto–which I don’t until the odds become so ridiculous that I look at it as a $1 investment in wishful thinking–I’d have to do a lot more than just win a lot of money to get the attention of the press after one or two news cycles. Most of those people drop off the face of the Earth unless they’ve royally screwed up their lives, so it can’t be that hard, can it?

Of course anyone with a warm body, lottery winner or not, gets the attention of the government. Miss a tax payment, and see how much they know about you. Get yourself dragged into a civil or criminal court, and all sorts of sordid things about your life become public knowledge. Try to change your identity, and there are all sorts of legal agencies that will come after you. But theoretically, here in cyberspace, you can enjoy a virtual sort of privacy. You can put your thoughts out there under an assumed name, and maybe, just maybe, you can fool all but the determined.

Or, better yet, you can just say little, do nothing to attract attention, and keep people at a sufficient distance that they don’t even want to know what you’re thinking. That’s a form of privacy, of course, but it’s usually the state one is in after being dead.

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