A World Without Secrets

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, privacy is defined as a state in which one is not observed or disturbed by other people, or the state of being free from public attention. One also has a right to privacy. What does privacy mean to you? We all have things we consider to be public and things we deem as private. When you get up in the morning, for instance, you might be alone in your bedroom. It is a private space. If you have a partner, you might share this space with them, or if you have roommates or children, your living spaces. Furthermore, we tend to demarcate spaces or determine what is public and what is private with certain rituals. Dressing is one; we choose how we present ourselves to the world by selecting certain items of clothing that construct an identity according to who we imagine ourselves to be. Putting on make-up serves as another act of public display. Those who wear it have a particular face they construct to be seen. What might it be like if there was no demarcation between your private and public spaces? A celebrity might empathize with this plight to a certain extent but, by and large, they tend to curate their public self via the press. They still maintain an element of privacy — it’s rare to see inside the bedroom of a public figure, or anyone for that matter, unless one is invited in. 
 
I’ve been thinking about privacy recently, perhaps because I’ve been watching the science fiction television series Black Mirror. Written by Charlie Brooker, it’s a generally dystopic view of the world and our relationship with technology. In one episode, a woman who is obsessed with boosting her social media profile in a world where every action is ratable eventually starts telling the truth about herself and others and consequently overcoming her fear of not being liked. In another, a man gets himself fired after deciding that his work as cartoon character who is running in the local elections is amoral. It’s thought provoking stuff, particularly with regards to how we think about ourselves in public and in private spaces, and what it means to be engaged with technology but it’s not for the faint of heart. Neither is this talk by Alessandro Acquisti called What Will a Future Without Secrets Look Like?
 
On a slightly different but connected tangent, I’ve also been thinking about the gaze (how and what it means to see) and gatekeeping (how a message is disseminated, usually via a mass medium). Who, in other words, dictates how and what we see and when. Someone once said to me that the editors of information would wield the most power in future. Perhaps, that is why social media technology is so popular. Those with the most followers can and do circumvent traditional modes of communication to curate their own image, brand, and message. I wonder, then, whether it’s pertinent to be particular about what we look at and read – not to engineer a silo where the only information we access affirms our thoughts and beliefs but rather to pay more attention to where that information is coming from, whose interests it’s serving, the quality of the reporting, and the facts. After all, especially if looking on the Internet, what we’re choosing to search for, see, upload, and send, as Acquisti reaffirms, tends not private at all.