I See You

Back in my high school English class, there was an interesting book we were required to read. The book is called “1984” by George Orwell. Of course, the book is known internationally and everyone knows who “Big Brother” is and how he is always watching you. Fast forward to 2016-it’s a bit eerie how much of Orwell’s novel about always being watched parallels to society today. The world has become so accustomed to just sharing every detail about us online that nothing is really kept secret anymore. As we think about the four social eras-oral, scribal, modern and post-modern it’s astounding how significant the idea and sense of privacy has changed and transformed over time. Back in the oral era there was no privacy because there wasn’t a sense of individualism. The only idea of being watched was the feeling that the gods were watching you and that would affect your placement in the afterlife (supposedly). Then going into the scribal era the religious aspect of privacy was still a part of life and now also people were always watching each other. Going back to the topic of community, we can visualize the Amish country and how everyone was close knit, there was no individual who hid secrets or actions from another. But something changed during the modern era-the most important aspect of the time-institutionalization.

Life truly began to change as the world became industrialized. People were going from small, close-knit communities where nothing was kept private to urban cities. As urban cities grew and expanded so did the population of the cities. An individual could see someone walking down the street one day and then never see that person again. It was something new and for many individuals it was a bit unnerving. Consider thinking about Jack the Ripper. Jack is remembered as an identified serial killer who was able to get away with murderers because there were no policemen and security cameras like there are today. Even before the rise of the digital age, when we think about the idea of privacy today it really began during the modern era. One of the reasons why more privacy emerged during the modern era was in large part due to the institutionalization of society. The United States became a country known for its diversity and many different social groups living on one soil. There was a need for people to start getting behind doors and screens to keep information out of sight and sound of others. There was this underlying fear that arose that people who didn’t really know other people were a little frightened. The sense of small, local community was lost. Along with a loss of local community, an individual’s sense of identity may have been affected as well. In Miller’s text “Understanding Digital Media,” the fifth chapter discusses the idea of privacy.

Miller mentions three aspects of privacy that the Western culture came up with; “the demand for private space derives from this romantic notion of only being able to be oneself, by oneself…secrecy…determine for themselves when, how and to what extent information about them is communicated to others…and anonymity..right to simply be ‘a face in the crowd”’ (pg 113). I mention Miller’s three aspects of privacy because it’s a bit of a challenge to actually see a true sense of privacy in the post modern digital era that we have today. Take a gander at this short clip from the film “Easy A” that basically sums up the issue with privacy today.

Now that social media has become so embedded in our lives, it’s impossible not to continuously share information about ourselves online. Want to know someone’s birthday? Google it. Want to know the names of the parents of one of your favorite celebrities? Check Wikipedia. Private information about individuals can be found in a matter of seconds because of this idea that to normally function in society you have to share everything about yourself online. This lost sense of privacy has provided both benefits and drawbacks. The positive outcome is that yes, security cameras are all over, but to many people that gives them a sense of relief that if someone was about to hurt them there would be security watching and ready to arrest the criminal. The negative outcome, in my opinion at least is that it’s a bit intense that every single search or activity I have done online is somewhere to be found in cyberspace. It may be hard to find but it can be found. How far is it going to go? I think of celebrities and how many of them just want to give up their title of celebrity because paparazzi is watching and actually photographing almost every move they make. Do we actually have a right to privacy? There’s nothing in any legal form or constitution that addresses this issue. Every individual just needs to be aware to be attentive to what they say and what they do and where they are because it’s true, someone is always watching.

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