Coming to Terms with a Life Without Privacy
How do we reconcile and thrive in a society where privacy no longer exists?
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Technology has eliminated privacy. It's that simple.
Anything shared now in any forum - public or private - is likely to be on video, tweeted, and archived for future review. Any data you enter into a form will be sold to hundreds of third parties. Any photographs you shared, PG or otherwise, are out in the ether. Unless you go off the grid, that's how the world is today.
Accepting it - coming to terms with the permanence of that reality - is another matter.
How do we live in a world where the young cannot make private mistakes? I have a friend who recently lost his job in a highly public and humiliating manner because of truly horrific tweets and messages he sent many years ago. His career could be over and he's not a seventy-year old senator with decades of savings and a pension. I'm not here to comment moralistically on what's deserved or not - certainly the messages merited the outrage - yet I know hundreds of other people who wrote similar things during and after college whose careers haven't been ended. For many, it's because privacy still existed for them - either they were old enough that texting, tweeting, and instagramming weren't the norm, or they hadn't embraced it yet.
Think of Ted Kennedy, for example, who became the great Lion of the Senate. What would have happened to his life if he'd tweeted out the night of Chappaqua, or shared his adolescent Kennedy views with a wider audience? Or Robert Byrd, if he'd had twitter to unwisely tweet out his enthusiasm for the KKK in his early years, before he knew better? We don't come out our best selves; life molds us into them - if we're lucky.
Now, of course, almost everyone embraces their social media of choice. People haven't stopped drinking, or doing drugs, or being generally unstable and growing up in fits and starts until they reach a point of maturity. How will society come to terms with our lack of privacy, and that we aren't born perfect?
Perhaps, as my eighteen-year-old brother suggested to me the other day, its only my generation - those old enough to use social but too old to have started out using it properly from Day 1 - that will deeply suffer. When we talked about my friend's experience, his response was essentially: "even if I believed that stuff, which I don't, I would never write it. Privacy doesn't exist; everybody I know just assumes that if they write it down, or send it out, its out there forever."