Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Privacy & Public Intimacy

I have some pretty uncommon beliefs about privacy (imagine that!). When I was a teenager, there was a period during which I exchanged some pretty personal messages with a particular person across the internet. Those messages included some very explicit conversations. Later, when I was on the outs with that person, it came to my attention that she had allegedly (I never received confirmation, so it could have all been a ploy) passed those messages on to someone I knew in person, a mutual contact. My natural response was, aside from a feeling of betrayal, extreme embarrassment. But guess what. It didn't ruin my life. And once I got over the embarrassment, I realized that it didn't make a difference.

Imagine you've just brought someone over to meet your parents. Much to your chagrin, they start talking about your childhood, and threaten to bring out embarrassing photos of you as a child - the 'baby on a bearskin'. No matter how much you protest, the photos come out. You spend a few moments being embarrassed, and then you get over it and realize it's no big deal. Nobody is going to disown you, or fire you from your job, or stop talking to you, because they saw an embarrassing photo of you. So even though I agree that these types of situations are a breach of trust, the repercussions are really not as bad as we make them out to be. And all it would take is a slight (ok, maybe not slight) attitude adjustment (on a cultural scale) to make those repercussions effectively nonexistent.

In this day and age, technology is changing the way we view privacy drastically. I still think privacy is important for personal reasons, but we ought to get over the fear that our lives will end if somebody finds out we have an embarrassing habit. Of course, a lack of privacy can be abused by people (especially those in power), to destroy opponents. Privacy is the stone age method of preventing somebody from using information against you. It just might be the case that in the emerging digital world, we need to invent a new solution. Maybe if there was enough transparency, it would no longer be possible to use secrets to hurt people. After all, nobody can blackmail you over public knowledge, and I think a person would be much less likely to name and shame when they've got just as many skeletons hanging out of their own closet for all the world to see.

But of course, in the meantime, anyone who chooses to be a pioneer and embrace transparency is just setting themselves up as a target for a majority which is still clinging to privacy. Perhaps this is all idealism, but the point I made above still stands. And is particularly applicable to the subject of nude and other photos of a sexually compromising nature. Now, if you've made an agreement (whether explicit or understood) that certain photos aren't to be distributed among strangers, then the person(s) you're intimately sharing them with ought to honor that agreement. I'm not going to argue otherwise. But if, perchance, those photos do happen to get out, whether by a breach of trust, or a legitimate accident, you should know that it's really not a big deal. And perhaps that knowledge might make you just a little more open to the possibility of agreeing beforehand to share the wealth.

After all, chances are, the only people likely to see those photos are people looking for photos of that sort - people who like seeing those photos. They're not about to track you down and make fun of you or something ridiculous like that. They'd just as soon thank you! And if anyone does try bullying you over it, that's a perfect opportunity for you to stand up for yourself and be the bigger man (as it were). You know the bully does things that are just as embarrassing - but between the two of you, he's the one who's afraid to admit it, and take responsibility for it. Make a stand for honesty and personal responsibility, don't let someone make you feel bad for doing something you believe in. And maybe you didn't intend on sharing your escapades with the world wide web, but how does anyone knowing what you did change your resolve in doing it? You shouldn't base your actions on who you expect is going to find out - you should engage only in activities that you're prepared to defend, and then you should engage in them with confidence! The only thing that sneaking around accomplishes is giving you a reason to feel bad when you get found out. Living in fear and shame is not a good way to live.

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