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Death of Privacy

Over the holidays I read Dave Eggers's dystopian novel, THE CIRCLE. In this Orwellian book about social media and invasive technology run amuk, instead of IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH we get PRIVACY IS THEFT. A character laments, “People should have the right to disappear.”
I was thinking about this book a few weeks ago when I offered my PR students parting remarks as the Spring 2014 semester came to a close. I said, “You’re all seniors, getting ready to graduate, and you want to change the world. But how can you change the world if you don’t know what’s happening in the world? You need to be CONNECTED, you need to follow current events, be on LINKEDIN, see what is trending and what is developing into a trend. The unexamined life is truly not worth living (one student knew that that quote came from Socrates). If you aren’t informed, you risk irrelevancy.”
Thinking back now, I do still agree with my statement, but I’m not particularly enamoured with the conditions we live in that make this all necessary.
People should not risk “irrelevancy” just because they don’t know what’s going on in Ukraine. Or the latest politician sex scandal. Or what “shocking” clothes Kim Kardashian is, or isn’t, wearing.
In the past, people got in trouble because they were uninformed. And it’s good to be informed. We need to know what our governments are up to, what corporations may be doing wrong, and for many years, that was the role of “traditional media,” democracy’s watchdog, to ensure any corruption or wrong doing was exposed. That’s why God gave us Mike Wallace.
But then things changed a bit. These wonderful tools like the internet and social media platforms like FACEBOOK and TWITTER and GOOGLE PLUS and whatever else is out there allowed us to share our own news with the world. Some of it is very interesting. Some have made careers out of what they’ve shared (like Justin Bieber...okay, maybe it would have been better he had just stayed offline). Some say we have “true democracy” now because every person is now free to comment and “share” whatever they want to share (usually cat videos) whenever they want…well, that is, everyone who has access to a computer or tablet of some kind. If you can’t afford one, well, I guess you’re just irrelevant.
I’m in PR, so it’s my job to be “connected,” to be “linked in,” and I am on LINKEDIN, and have 4,211 connections to prove it. But truth be told, if it wasn’t for my job, I wouldn’t be.
The door swings both ways. When you enter the social media world to reach out, others can “reach in.” Hence, FACEBOOK changing, upgrading and realigning it’s “privacy settings” every 15 minutes.
“People have a right to know!” Yes, they do. They have the right to know if a Congressman is stealing funds, if a factory is illegally dumping toxic waste, if NASCAR is no longer the nation’s number one sport (I don’t really know whether it is anymore or not, was never a fan). But people do NOT have the right to know where I am, what I’m doing, what I’m thinking, all the time. I should not feel that I must be on constantly, commenting, "liking" and sharing, because if you don't, well, you're irrelevant.
There’s this compelling urge, this NEED almost to post, once you enter this realm. Perhaps it’s tied into our basic human nature as social beings, wanting to find new ways to connect with other people, to acquiesce to peer pressure (hey, everybody seems to be posting these “Throwback Thursday” old photos of themselves…maybe I ought to do that!). In my case, I'm representing clients, so I need to make these connections, I have to be out there, I want people to read my posts, check out my client's doings, I have to comment on what THEY are doing, like their pages, everything is very reciprocal in the social media world.
Ten or 15 years ago, it was all about having a cell phone. People need to be able to reach you anytime, anywhere, or you weren’t relevant. You weren’t connected. Now it’s about social media. If you don’t tweet, you don’t have a FB page, if you aren’t Pinteresting, whatever, you aren’t CURRENT. If you’re not current, you’re not relevant.
In PR, we MUST be current. We MUST know what is trending, what the big “breaking news” is, how else can we provide our clients with adequate counsel? If you don’t follow the news, you might be recommending a client invest with Bernie Madoff…you get the idea.
But when you enter these waters, to learn more about the world and what’s happening around you, the world starts to get a good look at you. Access to YOU. Want information and details about YOU. Googled anyone lately?
What’s the point of my rant? None really. It’s like rafting on the whitewater, wondering what it all means, is it a good idea, maybe I shouldn’t be on the water, but it’s all moot, because you are, and that’s that, you have to keep paddling or else you’re end up all wet. Or dead.
That character in THE CIRCLE had it right. People should have the right to just “disappear.” While we all yearn for the embrace of another, it’s always better when it’s on our own terms. When we want it. When we need it. Not when someone else demands it. Sometimes the best part of being a human being is being left alone.