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The right to be let alone

  • Published at 08:02 pm May 18th, 2017
  • Last updated at 02:25 pm January 24th, 2018
The right to be let alone
Some of you might not agree with me but in my opinion, it’s been a long time since there was a true generation gap, perhaps 50 years — you have to go back to the early years of rock and roll, when old people still talked about “jungle rhythms”. Everything associated with that music and its greasy, shaggy culture felt baffling and divisive, from it's fashion sense to it's eating habits. That musical divide has all but disappeared. But in the past decade, a new set of values has sneaked in to take its place, erecting another barrier between young and old. And as it did in the 70s, the older generation has responded with a disgusted, dismissive squawk. Yes, I, a representative of the barefaced youth, officially am saying to the elder generation that you have got it right. We, the youth, without any meaningful standard by which to measure our worth, have turned to the public eye for attention, sacrificing the sense of shame along with privacy. When it is more important to be seen than to be talented, it is hardly surprising that the less gifted among us are willing to do even the dirtiest stuff on our way to spotlight.

Why do we over-share?

Can anybody from our generation brush aside the fact that we are toying with our privacy? I am not against these social networking sites or chat rooms, as it makes me sounds like a grumpy old man. But what is really the point of sharing our most private things online? What is really the point of broadcasting or disseminating information about the most private matters that have happened between individuals and what is really the point of making it a ‘talk of the town’ amongst us? Fact is, we do succumb to the allure of peeping into someone else’s private matters - be it the video of a TV actress making love to her boyfriend (which the angry boyfriend later posted as an act of revenge), or a video of a young violent kid violently beating another over a supposed girlfriend, or just an unnecessary hateful and venomous monologue by a seemingly unknown singer bashing a late writer’s wife. Because of the support we provide in the form of clicks and views from the comfort zone of “not being involved thus why not take pleasure in someone’s suffering” - these things have become commonplace now. And maybe because of that, we see the rise of a clan who have this notion that stardom will be bestowed upon them if they do the same, even at the cost of their or someone else’s privacy.

Not the technology, but the people

The problem here with the word ‘privacy’ is that it falls short of conveying the really big picture. Privacy isn’t just about hiding things. It’s about self-possession, autonomy, and integrity. As individuals in the computerised world of the 21st century, privacy is becoming our most important civil right. But this right of privacy isn’t literally the right of people to close their doors and pull down their window shades; it is the control over what details about their lives stay inside their own houses and what goes out. The protection of privacy is deeply embedded in the laws and institutions of the modern democratic state. Moreover, one has a strong visceral sense of privacy and apprehends clearly when it has been abrogated. It would be like saying that an individual does not understand liberty and justice. Yet, while passersby on the sidewalk might be hard-pressed to give a textbook definition of privacy, they could easily provide several examples of violations of their privacy. Since privacy is fundamentally about the power of the individual, in many ways, the story of technology’s attack on privacy is really the story of how institutions and the people who run them use technology to gain control over the human spirit, for good and ill. That’s because technology by itself doesn’t violate our privacy. It’s people using this technology who do.

Science, society and markets

Personal identification information - your name, profession, hobbies, and other bits that make up your self - is being turned into a valuable property right. But instead of being given to individuals to help them exert control over their lives, this right is being seized by big businesses to ensure continued profits and market share. Yes, if you want the convenience of paying for a meal by credit card, or getting some free Cloud storage, then you have to accept the routine collection of your purchases and browsing habits in a large database over which you have no control. It’s a simple bargain, albeit a Faustian one. Privacy-invasive technology does not exist in the vacuum though, of course. That’s because technology itself exists at a junction between science, the market and the society. People create technology to fill specific needs, real or otherwise. And technology is regulated, or not, as people and society see fit. That’s why the people on the ‘other side’ argue that when they invade our privacy, the invasion is usually the result of conscious choice, and for making that choice they give you the freedom and vehicle to post your next privacy-invasive post which might lead you to quick yet airy stardom! Now, due to the popularity of overexposure, it may be time to consider the possibility that young people who behave as if privacy doesn’t exist are actually the sane people, not the insane ones. For someone like me, who grew up sealing my diary with a literal lock, this may be tough to accept. But under current circumstances, a defiant belief in holding things close to your chest might not be high-minded. It might be an artifact—quaint and naïve, like a determined faith that innocence is pure. Or at least that might be true for someone who has grown up “putting themselves out there” and found that the benefits of being transparent make the risks worth it.
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