My friend Jonathan’s life is not only an open book, he sometimes provides too much information about his personal life. Jonathan’s father says that Jonathan, Junior has had the habit of oversharing since his childhood. Meanwhile, Jonathan, Senior says that the rest of the family has been much more reticent about sharing their private lives.
My friend is an anomaly among my small circle of friends. Most of us place a high value on our privacy. Some of us are very secretive. Some of us strategically share private information on a “need to know” basis.
I belong to the strategically sharing camp. During most of my life, I’ve had a public career in broadcast media. People who are in the public sphere are vulnerable to threats of blackmail. I did not want to worry about this problem as far as my own life is concerned, so my decision to publicly come out as gay was a fairly easy decision. By the way, the time frame of this decision was in the 1970s when being publicly LGBT was much more dangerous than now.
Although businesses were much more discriminatory in those days, the peace of mind of having “all my cards” face up on the table was personally worth it. I could go about my business and concentrate on work without a big secret hanging over my head. If I could go back in time, I would have come out sooner so it would have been a non-issue earlier.
That said, I certainly do not share more than I deem appropriate and necessary about my life. Most of all, I value the privacy of my friends and family above my own. Their secrets and private lives are safe in my hands. I only share what is mundane and normally permissible to pass along as anecdotes. I also use pseudonyms when it is prudent to do so. As a person who has lived a public life, I deeply understand the value of private time. People in the public realm cannot live lives without frequently “looking over my shoulder” wondering about friendly strangers.
“There is no such thing as absolute privacy in America.”–former FBI Director James Comey
These days in the presence of the Internet and ever-present social media, privacy is at a premium. Some folks forget that we don’t need to share everything. It’s good to pause for several minutes to decide whether or not to click the “share” button after composing something on Facebook. It’s just as easy to click on “cancel” as it is to click on “share”.
One common practice that I find troubling is people who routinely share photographs and information about minor children on Facebook and other platforms. Although they only intend that family and close friends will have access to the child’s information, they forget that if it’s on social media, there are go-arounds of firewalls and privacy settings. People who have no business knowing about other people’s children can find easy ways to obtain it. If I had a child or children, I would not post any photos nor information about them on social media, whatsoever. After all, children are not able to legally grant waivers of privacy. There are a lot of questionable trolls on the Web.
Meantime, children who have social media accounts need frequent reminders about the dangers of oversharing. Simply having social media accounts makes them more vulnerable to harmful activity even without oversharing. If kids provide TMI, they make themselves much more tempting targets for strangers’ prying eyes and proclivities.
If we take some of our quiet, personal time to ponder our modern, digitally connected world, we might discover that we are demolishing our privacy in exchange for sociability, convenience, and a sense of false security.
Artificial intelligence deployed on the Web already gleans the most innocuous data about us and redistributes it to advertisers, government bureaucracies, and anyone who has the cash to buy it. In an earlier post, I mentioned how writing about the ape species, bonobos, has yielded sidebar advertising about “Bonobos” brand clothing following me around wherever I go on the Web. This apparently amusing anecdote should be taken as a warning about how much privacy we have already lost.
You’ve probably noticed this type of advertisement targeting, too. Perhaps you were curious about a particular type of coffee brewing machine, so you consulted a website or two about it. Very soon, you start noticing sidebar and banner advertising at your favorite websites about the coffee brewing machine and where you can buy one. To me, this is annoying and disconcerting. This aggressive, intrusive type of marketing is not conducive to living a simple, clutter-free life.
Most of all, privacy has become a commodity that has a price tag on it. If you desire privacy, you are urged to purchase a special data package to help ensure discretion. Why should I need to purchase moments of privacy from a total stranger? It seems sort of like a type of blackmail.
Privacy is still a very important aspect in one’s daily life. We need a place of refuge where we can let our hair down and share space with loved ones or all alone. Our private spaces are where we have meals and little moments with loved ones. Privacy is being in the moment without concerns about people spying on us.
Private spaces seem to be shrinking and in danger of vanishing. If my Internet connected kitchen appliances know more about me than my lover does, something is seriously amiss. The lack of privacy causes us to hearken back to times when e-commerce and data gathering were not ubiquitous. Privacy allows us to slow down and enjoy uninhibited living.
I don’t want WalMart to categorize me into a marketing demographic so they can more effectively advertise to me. I don’t want a data-gathering corporation collecting my personal information so they can sell it to the Kremlin or whomever. This happens anyway, by default.
In the end, I want to be the one who decides what information I want to share, and what information I do not want to share.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes multi-instrumentalist/composer Jean-Michel Jarre. “Saying that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say.”