So last week I was knocking down sangria at a ridiculous pace in the company of another blogger, with whom I was discussing the problems of modern online life. I think the chain of events started with the matter of Eliot Spitzer and his young lady, followed by the fact that she apparently got herself all over the Internet and already has footage of her cookie on Girls Gone Wild, followed by amazement that kids these days go to eighth base on the first date whereas in our day, you had to invest a year and a half just to get a long lead off second, culminating in amazement that the current generation of teens has no problem with every aspect of their lives being online, which can’t be good for future job prospects…
And she made an excellent point: these kids have grown up with reality TV and tabloid TV, from OJ and Tonya Harding to Monica Lewinsky to Survivor to American Idol to Paris Hilton. Based on that, it is not unreasonable for them to think that anybody can be famous, and it really doesn’t matter what for. Consequently, having your entire life out there on the My Space or the Face Book (SEE HOW I LOOK CURMUDGEONLY) is just one more avenue to accumulating friends and followers and fame. Of a sort.
Which dovetails nicely with another thought I have long had: that technologically, genuine privacy is almost impossible to achieve. You’d have to deal entirely in cash, stay completely off the Internet, go to great lengths to make sure nobody uses your SSN as a unique identifier for your driver’s license or student ID or anything like that. But if you’re a normal person in 2008, you’re leaving a trail of breadcrumbs all through cyberspace, from the DMV to your credit report to your Friendster to that weird website account you opened two years ago, used once and forgot about. And that’s before you add in the influence of government snooping and the fact that most of your communications will pass through a small handful of pipes – AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Charter, the like.
Basically, as Neal Stephenson demonstrated in The Diamond Age, the only fix for the privacy dilemma is not technical, but cultural. Messing about in other peoples’ business has to be not only a crime in law, but a crime in polite society. A snoop and a busybody have to be held in the same regard as somebody who farts loudly in public, or worse. But if people insist on hanging it all out there, it doesn’t work. It’s difficult to respect the privacy of an exhibitionist.
Scott McNeely of Sun famously said “Privacy is dead. Get over it.” Tough to argue that the youth of today haven’t done just that. Which may be a good thing – they may well be equipped to deal with the reality of the future than us. Does that make me some kind of cranky old man?