The fundamental horror at the core of dystopian fiction of the twentieth century is ultimately the loss of privacy. Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Fourimagined a world where the government is omniscient — not only knowing exactly what you are doing at any time, but also having a sense of what you are feeling and possessing a means to control it. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale posited a theocratic government who decimated privacy out of a fear of terrorism; electing to rob women of all agency.
For these writers, an atomised, private existence was the core of liberty. Take that away, and you don’t mean anything. You are nothing without self-described boundaries on your public expression. The notion of a world where information flowed freely but was constantly scrutinised by outside forces would for them represent a manifestation of the panopticon: a theoretical prison in which the inmates cannot see the guards monitoring them, and so must assume that they are always being monitored.
In 2010, Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, stood in front of a crowd in San Francisco and announced the end of privacy.
He told his interviewer, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, that if he had the chance to make Facebook again and erase his original mistakes, his vision would have been far bolder: he would have ensured that all information shared to the network was public by default. “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people,” he said. “That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.”
Soon, the very objects that we consider most personal and physical — the bathroom scales with which we measure our weight, the toothbrush we use to brush our teeth, and so on — will be connected to the Internet and collecting and collating data. We will know our precise health state, and so will our doctor. So will our friends, via social media. They may know our emotions, precisely. For better or worse, we are engendering a culture in which information is cheap and is passed freely. Even experiences that are private because of their phenomenology — eating, sleeping, dreaming — will become public because of how we document them.
This is the final frontier for privacy. It is no longer a matter of our control over exactly how much of our personal life we deign to share with the public — it is a matter of precisely how much of our internal existence is taken from us. If someone can manipulate our thought and emotion based on a stratum of data we willingly and unwillingly contributed to, then there is no real sense of public and private any longer — only an escalating series of intrusions.
j.r. hennessy on the end of privacy.
The last part in particular makes me think of Project Itoh’s novel, Harmony. (Which is now apparently also an anime.) Itoh wrote Harmony during his frequent treatments for cancer–he passed away in 2009–and it’s about a society where loss of privacy is so severe it goes down to an individual’s very health.