Why do we need privacy

After announcements by Google’s Eric Schmidt around privacy, which I think can basically be summed up as ‘act like your parents/god/all-powerful being of you choice can see what you are to at all times and you’ll be fine’ approach. Followed by Facebook’s tightening up of privacy settings, which could potentially be summed up as a ‘sheesh  you people are too dumb to protect yourselves, let us do it for you’ arse covering manoeuvre. My thoughts have turned to privacy in general, online in particular and the question running around my head right now is, why does privacy matter?

Earlier in the year I had a natter with a psychotherapist of some renown about online privacy, they firmly believe that in 10 to 15 years time that they will be seeing clients present with a whole new set of issues based on our increasing online use. Their fears were based around the importance of non-verbal communication and what will happen when the vast majority doesn’t include it. My concerns were more based on the rather huge likelihood of something stupid that you had done in the past coming to bite you on the arse at a crucial point in the future and what  that would do to your self-image and esteem.

In a handily timed example, the wife of current Common speaker, Sally Bercow,  announced her intention to stand as a labour MP in the upcoming election along with a slew of revelations about her younger self, which was regarded as an unusual step. It is possible that the decision was made to be so transparent after the media accused  her of losing a job after lying about her degree but whatever the impetus, it was a brave and interesting move. Brave in that she has put herself up as the centre of judgemental gossip and voter derision, interesting in its unusualness. It will also be interesting to see what will happen in the run up to the election. Will her move have taken the sting out of any potential attacks by rivals or will her confessions be thrown in her face repeatedly?

Now it is possible that in twenty or so years, when the upcoming bunch of millennials are running the show no-one will care what you did in the past and if there are pictures of you as a teenage goth three sheets to wind hanging around the inernet, then that just adds colourful detail to your general windswept and interesting self and no more. Currently though we have the Boomers and Gen X in charge, and to them thought of (over)sharing every element of your life seems to border on insanity. Now as a society, we excel at accepting behaviour that previous generations held to be beyond the pale*, for example abortion, female suffrage and  homosexuality. Perhaps these are overly weighty examples to support my hypothesis that potentially at some stag in the future we will accept that people do do stupid things in their youth, or indeed at any age, that we are not all beige clones dedicated to a future work self’s protection

Pale is the noun meaning ‘a stake or pointed piece of wood’. It is virtually obsolete now except in this phrase, but is still in use in the associated words paling (as in paling fence) and impale (as in Dracula movies).

The paling fence is significant as the term pale became to mean the area enclosed by such a fence and later just the figurative meaning of ‘the area that is enclosed and safe’. So, to be ‘beyond the pale’ was to be outside the area accepted as ‘home’.  Source: The Phrase FInder

0 thoughts on “Why do we need privacy

  1. Yep. Those of us who grew up during the tail end of the Cold War are more used to the idea of hiding things; the game, I suppose, for us and prior generations was “how to keep stuff private.”

    Because everyone around us was playing the game equally well, social proof effectively told us that “you’re the only weirdo; for God’s sake pretend harder.”

    Don’t know how much this is a bad thing. Understand how it could lead to neuroses etc, but also see it as a useful social unifying force.

  2. A subject very close to my heart.

    I personally think that your psychotherapist is right and that privacy is an ingredient of mental well-being. Our lives are (have been) based on acting through different personae – this is work-me, this is home-me, this is with-parents-me, etc. The nakedness of allowing those personae to collide seems socially unbearable.

    OTOH, I agree that we will develop means of coping – becoming more forgiving of past mistakes, of things done outside the workplace, etc.

  3. I did a presentation on societies changing approaches to privacy earlier this year, and found some evidence of it being an evolutionary requirement, from the days when we lived in very small and incredibly intimates groups in the cave, I assume that was our way of coping then with the necessary intrussion of others.

    Today we welcome this intrusion, I wonder if it is part that we subconciously see a life lived in public as being a success life, as it emulates the celebrities that society worships.

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