IT Confidential: Privacy Is A Tale Told By An Idiot

More and more, people are decrying the loss of privacy due to the advancement of technology, technology that increasingly is imposed from above (or so the argument goes).

John Soat, Contributor

December 2, 2005

3 Min Read

More and more, people are decrying the loss of privacy due to the advancement of technology, technology that increasingly is imposed from above (or so the argument goes). For the same reason, more and more people express sympathy for the notion of living "off the grid"--living outside the reach of intrusive, data-gathering corporate entities that dare to provide modern amenities like electricity, gas, running water, etc. The fact is, most people these days couldn't stand to live off the TiVo machine, much less off the grid.

The dictionary defines privacy as "the quality or state or being apart from company or observation: seclusion." Now, let's look at a news story from last week. Market-research firm Gartner predicts that by the end of this year, almost 300 million camera phones will have been sold worldwide ("Almost 300 Million Cameraphones Sold In 2005: Gartner"). Think about it: Camera phones are first and foremost cell phones--mobile communication devices--that have grafted onto them handheld digital cameras. What about that equation spells "seclusion"?

Not only have camera phones reinvigorated content on voyeur Web sites, they have spawned a whole new category of information dissemination, one that's directly impacting my career. It's called "citizen journalism"--the most recent and dramatic example of that is the camera-phone photos of the London subway bombings last summer--and it promises to rewrite the rules of journalism (Did I just say "rules" of journalism--ha! That's like saying the rules of Ultimate Fighting) from the bottom up.

So if I'm willing to accept that my profession (trade, craft, cult) is being overhauled by something close to grassroots democratization, why aren't most people willing to accept that privacy isn't being eroded from the top down, it's being voted off the island?!

Privacy is a fallacy, anyway; once you have kids, as all parents know, that quaint and archaic notion goes right out the window--except as a form of emotional blackmail. "Can't a person get a little privacy around here?" Sound familiar? Sure it does. Every kid has heard that lament from his or her parents more than a few times. Indeed, this is where our notion of privacy is formed--privacy as something sacred, mysterious, absolute. Little did we know our parents simply wanted to take a nap, go to the bathroom, or have sex.

Only a few weeks ago, Internet pundits were wringing their hands over an anticipated falloff in E-commerce this holiday season because of consumers' fears over identity theft ("Consumers Fear Holiday Theft Of Credit Data: IBM Survey"). Then came the Thanksgiving weekend and Cyber Monday. Will there be an increase in the amount of shopping done online this holiday season over last season? Do grizzly bears eat stupid environmentalists? Especially if they live off the grid.

If I don't start paying my utility bills on time, I'm going to get voted off the grid. Can I stay with you? Or can I at least get an industry tip? Send it to [email protected], or phone 516-562-5326.

Use your camera phone to generate video for The News Show, which airs at noon ET every weekday, at or on No locker-room shots, please.

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit John Soat's forum on the Listening Post.

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