It’s no news that the Internet has changed our culture, and we continue to move forward at light speed into new realms of virtuality. I like that: reality and virtuality. You may remember two years ago the genius cover of Time magazine’s Person of the Year with it's glossy silver TV screen showing us all who won. We are changing and dictating the laws that govern this webby universe in communications, media, business technology, and well, everything, even our social lives. Every moment of the day it seems there are new trends sweeping the online communities. The fact that there are online communities! is in itself a testament to how vastly different our world was 15-20 years ago. We know this; it's not new. It just keeps astounding me.
I am part of a generation who grew up in the eighties and were there to witness the dawn of cable, the birth of MTV, but who also remember playing outside and after dinner, games like cops and robbers and capture the flag. We remember a world without cell phones or Microsoft Windows. We progressed from the clackity typewriter (which I still love) to the glitchy word processor, which always ran off the margins when my school paper was due, and on to learning clunky DOS commands on our first IBM. That blinking cursor taunted me every time I booted up the old “machine,” daring me to type the wrong command. The younger generation can barely fathom a world without Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and on and on... I remember when only my parents and the government knew my social security number! Because the younger generations are steeped in what gifts technology has brought us, we have very different views of privacy.
An incident occurred last week that really struck me. I happen to be employed by a high-profile person, who greatly respects her privacy and is not of this generation. My task was to set up some interviews for extra part time help. One of the potential candidates posted his interview on Twitter. Fairly harmless, right? Simple posting to friends, “I have a job interview with so-and-so.” Not so! In fact, my boss's web designer, an avid Twittee (is that the correct phrase?), caught wind of this posting somehow, and my boss, fearful of this kind of exposure all over twitterland, canceled the interview. I don't recount this story to advise people not to send tweets about their exciting new job prospects. What occurred to me was not only how fast information travels, but that my boss who is completely tech-challenged and would never know this information was posted, still had access to it through our her trusty web designer, who miraculously caught it.
How arresting to know that literally anything you say, do or tell people, any bit of news about you, can potentially go public. The implications of this relatively insignificant event really fascinates me. That a harmless posting from someone of a younger generation, who probably thought nothing of it, and my boss, who is actually quite visible in the news and media, for whatever reason, felt it was an invasion of privacy. This small posting caused his job and showed me what ramifications these social networking, blogs and micro-blogs can have. What one says and does really can end up on the Internet at anytime, anywhere. Without getting too paranoid about the whole issue, and let’s leave identity theft out of the discussion for now, I realize that everything has changed. If I were into conspiracy theories, I would say, this is GENIUS- to have our own citizens watching each other. Big Brother is not only watching, Big Brother is you, me and everyone with Internet access. We really are our own watch-keepers now.
I don't think George Orwell could have anticipated anything like the Internet taking over the modern landscape when writing his novel in the late 1940's. After 9/11 happened, and the Patriot Act took affect, surely many of our alarms sounded as certain basic freedoms were swiftly usurped from under our fear-stricken terrorist scathed noses, all in the name of keeping Democracy safe. However, that creeping feeling that "Big Brother is watching" has not only become more prevalent in our reality today as everyone practically has access our social security number, all personal information, and one’s lives are recorded every step of the way through credit card transactions, is it now something we must embrace with this modern culture of hyper-tech awareness?
My sister recently posted pictures of a road trip we took fifteen years ago, pre-Facebook. When I saw these goofy pictures posted on the Internet for all of our “friends” and network of friends to see, including some guys that I’ve dated, my heart stopped. Not because I didn’t have a great time, but I don’t want some of those silly moments that I enjoyed with my sister splayed all over the Internet. The fact that I don’t have control over what people decide to post about me is positively unnerving. Should I never let anyone take a picture of me ever again?
Privacy has died I'm afraid, and holding on to any semblance of one's own privacy requires one to be resourceful and creative. Or, do we embrace it fully and move forward with the wave of modernity? Sometimes I think Salinger had it right; a hermit-like existence is often appealing in these embarrassing situations. How does one balance the two? I hold my privacy quite dearly, and yet I blog or write online such as here, where there are opportunities for me to be heard and get published. Though, I’m not about to take my Facebook profile down… After all, someone I sat next to at lunch in third grade just friended me, and we’re having coffee next week.