I learned a good lesson yesterday: when writing about something as contentious and hot-button as online privacy, don’t just dash something off in under 30 minutes. Though I stand by my original thesis, it was clear that I didn’t explain said thesis very well.
It hit me like a lightening bolt last night – when and how this attitude about privacy was born. I can even pinpoint the exact date: June 5, 2002. (Stick with me for a minute. I promise I’ll connect it in the end.)
June 5, 2002 was the day I got mugged. It was in the middle of the day, on a weekday afternoon, in a grocery store parking lot teeming with people. Really, the least likely timing one could imagine. There was no gun, thank goodness, but the bastard did put his hands on me and throw me to the ground. (The funny part: as he was running off with my purse, my wallet fell out. Ha ha!) I skinned up a leg pretty badly and lost my passport and cell phone, but it could have gone much much worse. As any crime victim will tell you, though, it’s the emotional damage that gets you. It took me years to feel relatively safe in my own skin again and I can assure you that I have a decidedly different view of parking lots now.
There’s another common thread any crime victim may share with you: at a certain point, you must accept the randomness of the universe. Otherwise, you’ll continue to believe that you could have done something different to prevent the crime. And that’s simply not the case. In fact, any psychologist will tell you that it is downright detrimental to believe you could have controlled the outcome of the situation. That’s the insidious nature of crime: it snatches control of your being right out of your hands.
To keep yourself from going batty, you do as much as you can. You lock your doors at night, keep your children close, and avoid dark alleys. But if you spend too much time exploring all the different ways in which something could go wrong, you end up agoraphobic and surrounded by cats.
In case it’s not already painfully obvious, this is how my attitude about online privacy developed. You do all you can – and let me be clear that I’m not suggesting you don’t do all you can – and then you let go. And if you can’t let go, it very easily becomes a fetish.
If you agree to be an active member of society, you recognize that there is a risk. And you recognize that the benefit of living your life is worth the risks. If you’re unfortunate enough to be mugged, you don’t blame the grocery store for the fact that you had to buy toilet paper.
If you agree to be an active member of online society, you recognize that there are risks. And that the current – and especially eventual – benefit of sharing at least some of your life online is worth the risk. Just as you avoid dark alleys, you shouldn’t share anything online that you’re not ready for the world to see. You trust they won’t, and you do what you can to protect yourself, but you should be prepared for the eventuality. And should that unfortunate eventuality occur, you don’t blame the site for the fact that you wanted to share pictures of your kids.
I’m not declaring privacy dead. I don’t think anyone concerned about it is a “Luddite.” But I do think that the conversation we’re currently having is out of date and ignoring some painful truths.