May 18, 2013

What Have You Got to Hide, Anyway?

updated March 7, 2017...

Watching The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits reruns as a kid, I couldn't understand why characters tolerated being spied on or controlled by unseen minders. It seemed melodramatic that defiant protagonists were successfully labeled trouble-makers and invariably shunned or jailed by faceless entities. I filtered these futuristic worlds through my actual childhood – hours on end spent unreachable as I rode my bike without a phone or camera or, for that matter, an adult in sight.

In heavy rotation online and on TV are commercials for home monitoring systems that promise peace of mind for working parents. “Imagine the relief,” a well-known cable-phone-internet corporation coos and guilts, “knowing you can watch your children arrive safely home from school.” The kicker, the piece I didn't account for as a kid watching science fiction, was the source of the surrender.

Children born today will never know the privacy we took for granted a very few years ago. Children born today will never have an expectation of privacy. How could they, when their parents and loved ones mindlessly surrender personal information and images in return for more sophisticated devices and convenient apps? Privacy and control, even inside the home, are casually forfeited - not demanded by some malevolent state or faceless corporation a la The Twilight Zone.

What about future protagonists, now in diapers, who grow up to challenge this status quo? Save for the occasional trial verdict or sensational headline proclaiming security and commerce has prevailed uninterrupted, we may never know they even exist.

Note: The New Yorker's July 1, 2013 The Talk of the Town has an article by Alec Wilkinson, "Big Brother Dept., Mask Crusader." A comment at the end from Heather Dewey-Hagborg, an information artist, relates, "If you care about privacy, you'd better do something, because we are probably the last generation that will realize what we're losing."