الأحد، أبريل 05، 2009

Death of Privacy

Death of Privacy

And the Rise

Of the Collective

Big Brother

Wael Nawara

I have recently observed a number of notes written by fellow Facebookers in which they would describe, in varying levels of detail, “romantic relationships” which they allegedly have had with other friends on Facebook. The underlying motive in most of these “notes” would seem to be taking revenge once the relationship had gone sour. But the peculiar thing is this. None of these notes would go as far as to mention the actual name of the other party “involved”. Instead, the plaintiff, would lay out sufficient personal details as to expose the alleged “perpetrator” before other fellow Facebook friends or acquaintances. I say “perpetrator” because this is how the “person” is described. A savage inconsiderate beast. Of course, none of these adjectives had been used when the relationship was good and running. But the trick is, once they break up, the one who starts to publicize this corners the “defendant” who in fact is bullied into silence. To avoid a scandal, the “defendant” would refrain from making a comment so that he or she does not directly commit to being a party to the broken affair and the recipient of the generously designated infamous adjectives of evil. The harm, nevertheless, is done, and the “defendant’s” reputation is tarnished. He or she can never tell their side of the story. Yet, they stand in fact victims of a one-sided virtual trial which sentence they cannot appeal.

For the past decade and a half, we have managed to live by while our names, photos, news, personal data and private stuff was being violated. We survived this “invasion” of our privacy. But for relationships, romances, affairs and break-ups to publicly go online, this marks the end of privacy. I do not see this phenomenon as a new trend in romantic relationships. I see this as an announcement for the death of privacy or what remained of it. The frightening penetration of Facebook, My-space, Twitter and other virtual social communities adds a lot of leverage to this loss of privacy. What you say or write in confidence to someone, can possibly be advertised by that person or worse, by a hacker, and exposed to the whole 200 million users of Facebook or the 1 billion users of the Internet! Unlike older chat communities, such as “Yahoo Chat” where everyone was using some screen name or a handle which protected their real identities, Facebook came with a new concept: no face, no book, so you either shared your real name, photo and personal details or no one will feel comfortable enough to “add” you as a friend. It is like this giant nude beach party where the only condition to being invited is to show up naked yourself! It worked. People just put their real names and photos and stepped into the global village where anyone can know everything about anyone else.

We got so absorbed, in fact sucked into this virtual universe that many of us would update their “status” several times a day using their mobile phones, to tell the rest of the world what they are up to, where they are and how they feel. We shared our photos, photos of our children and loved ones with the entire Internet-using world. Anyone now can know our birth date, our entire education and job history, music and movies we like, even watch our friends’ photos and learn their hobbies.

We live our lives naked. Why do we do that? Is it because we are exhibitionist by nature and have been just waiting all along for the chance to be ourselves? Are we just lonely and we are trying to find someone, anyone to communicate with? Are we just randomly tossing away bottles into the deep wide ocean and hoping that someone somewhere will read the message, possibly like what is there enough to get back to us, even befriend us for whom we are?

This desperate and random exchange of billions of message-carrying-bottles every day, however, has come at such a price. At the cost of our own privacy. Some would argue, what is the value of privacy if there is nothing happening in our lives in the first place. Nothing interesting, exotic and out of the ordinary that is. So, we trade privacy for communication and potential action.

Should we just share our lives on the screen with whoever cares to watch in a giant random “Truman Show” where everyone basically knows that they are being watched? Should we mourn our privacy or celebrate our new friends? Should we guard our secrets or snoop into those of everyone else so that we are all equally exposed! Is privacy over-rated? Does the apparent loss of privacy make us behave in a better way? Become better netizens, since everything we say or do can be found out, reported and publicized for and or against us? Isn’t this “familiarity” what enforced a certain behavioral code in little villages where everyone knew everyone else? A code which was less observed in the city where people could go wild anonymously?

On the other hand, isn’t our privacy what makes us unique? Makes us who we are? I mean, if we feel watched all the time by some “collective Big Brother”, wouldn’t we just think and behave as we are “expected to”? Would we try to become who we should be rather who we really are? Would we just lose our uniqueness, innocence, spontaneity, innovation and become copies of the same “standard and approved person”?

For some reason, somehow, I do mourn privacy and regret its death. The death of a world where you could one day, not too long ago, think loudly sometimes, without finding your thoughts played on YouTube the next day.

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