How many of the people signing up for the “Do Not Call” list are the same people who do not hesitate to talk about their business and personal lives in public via cell phone?
It’s an interesting question. Because the two phenomena, 50 million people flocking to keep telemarketers from reaching them at home and the loud-mouth next to you on the bus talking about his business plans, are all faces of the same issue—the changing nature of privacy.
The modern epitaph for privacy was issued by Scott McNealy, chairman of Sun MicroSystem, when he said that the modern world with computers and the Internet meant there is no privacy. “Get used to it,” was his advice. A friend had a more historical view last week when she said, “the reason the writers of the Constitution did not guarantee a right to privacy is that it’s such a changing concept.” Both are right in some ways.
Not only is privacy a moving target, it is changed by technology, which is never value-neutral. Technology does not just automate things. It changes how we think about ourselves and society, and privacy is one of those moldable ideas (along with the concept of family).
Privacy is a fairly modern and pretty much middle-class concept. Those huddled masses yearning to breathe free did not have the same privacy issues when they lived in New York’s Lower East Side in the last 1800s and early 1900s in the possibly densest population in the world. And for those who have asked their spouses, “Are the kids asleep yet?” think of a family on the American frontier with two parents, eight kids, and a grandparent or two in a 20-foot-by-30-foot cabin. They were never all asleep. Or think of the rich. They invite strangers—maids, butlers—into their houses. It’s a much different kind of privacy at home.
So what is privacy when a substantial part of the population can reach the other part through instant messaging, can dig up data, including the confidential stuff, fairly easily? It’s a small town. And while community is nice, the trade off is that everybody in a small community knows your business and sticks their nose into it at least once. Having grown up in a farming community, I found that fact not one of the better features of community life.
What is privacy when people have fewer and fewer qualms about discussing business and personal issues in front of total strangers? It’s much different than it was in the 1950s and 1960s, or even the 1990s.
No, privacy ain’t what it used to be. And it never will be again.
Register or login for access to this item and much more
All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.
Community members receive:
- All recent and archived articles
- Conference offers and updates
- A full menu of enewsletter options
- Web seminars, white papers, ebooks
Already have an account? Log In
Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access