Privacy and autonomy

Betty and Don Draper sitting in a car
Before I delve into my post, I need to share the series of events that lead me to my thinking about privacy and its relationship to autonomy. Bear with me; it is a badly-paved and less travelled road*.

Watch that pothole….

A couple weeks ago, I read an article that appeared in the New York Times that said “privacy and autonomy… are central to male gender identity.” Later that evening as I was watching an episode of Mad Men (Season two, episode three, The Benefactor,) with the article still bouncing around inside my head, I saw this one itty-bitty little look in Don Draper’s face that I had missed the first time around. This one little scene gave me all the clarity I needed about the real issue of privacy. (You’ll have to watch episodes much later for the plot line. The look was also foreshadow.)

Betty and Don had just finished dinner with Bobby and Jimmy Barrett where Jimmy had to apologize to the Schillings for some bad behavior earlier. During the ride home, Betty gets all teary-eyed at the thought of her and Don “working” together as part of a team.

In the Betty and Don Draper relationship, this is when things started falling apart. When Betty decided that she was part of his team, she threatened his autonomy. She threatened a carefully-crafted and guarded identity that he alone owned and controlled. Don lived by the Hobo Code. The first rule of the code is to “decide your own life…” Betty being a part of the “Ad-Man Don Draper” meant he could no longer manage that life — that identity — with autonomy.

I’m a big fan of Mad Men, not so much the story but the cultural layers the series examines, uncovers and winks back at the viewer with that “I know you saw that, but it never happened” look. Privacy is a huge theme woven throughout the story.

When we talk abut privacy, I think we are really talking about autonomy. Ultimately it does not matter a whole lot what others know about us but it would be naïve to believe that what others know about us would not be used against us. We see this popping up with abandon all over in socially acceptable behavior.

It’s now ok to take embarrassing photos of your friends sleeping in an airport and share with everyone on Facebook.

It’s now ok to blab to the media about intimate details of a celebrity relationship gone bad.

It’s now ok for a publisher to offer a talented writer less than her work is worth because she writes on her blog about being impoverished.

It’s now ok to rescind a job offer because a candidate’s online friends are not conformists.

Privacy is not the thing we should be guarding; autonomy is. Privacy is the hard shell that guards the real plumb center of autonomy. Marketers and those who seek power at all levels know it. To get people to willingly share the details of their lives and how these details interconnect with those around them was pure genius. Evil, but still genius.

A loss of privacy ultimately leads to a loss of autonomy. The consequences of the loss of autonomy is what the Mark Zuckerbergs and his generation do not understand. While our leaders wring their hands over issues of privacy, marketers and power-seekers are already deftly filleting our autonomy.

Privacy is dead. It was necessary to kill it off so we could get at your autonomy.

How will you guard your autonomy now that the Sentry Privacy has been knocked off his post?

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you

— Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah

*I wonder if my blog would qualify for a road and bridge repair grant from the US Government under the Jobs Act. Hmmmmm…

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about exploring the theme, Privacy To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

A monkey with a loaded typewriter

Right margin on the manual typewriter

I read this short post by Nathan Bransford about tinkering with e-books after they have been “published.” At first, I was deeply conflicted. On the one hand, being able to correct typos easily and make updates seems like you would be giving your readers a service they could not get in print books. On the other, my English degree (my old, tattered one) says that once a writer releases the work, it is no longer his; it belongs to his readers, warts and all.

But then my old newspaper background reared its ugly head and reminded me square on that in print, there are no do-overs. If you miss a typos or make some other mistake during the editing process, it will get replicated 200,000+ times and be forever archived AS IS in the Library of Congress, the Newseum and as clippings in scrapbooks for generations. If that kind of pressure does not force you to become very, very good at the craftsmanship of writing, you should perhaps look for another profession.

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The I Could Do it Better Syndrome

InvisiblePeople.tv

You know them.

They’re the people who yell at the television on Monday nights, insisting that they could have caught that pass or avoided that tackle. They’re the ones who can’t attend a conference or event without telling other people how they would have made it more interesting. They’re the people who believe they can do everything better than anyone else, whether it’s blogging, forging a career, making choices, having a relationship, or even serving a charitable cause.

The I Could Do It Better Syndrome seems to affect only a small percentage of the population, but they’re a persistent and vocal minority that demands not only to be heard, but somehow validated. It’s not enough to address their criticisms — they want nothing less than complete capitulation. Yes, you are right and I am wrong. How may I serve you? What can I do to make you happy? Until they get the attention and agreement they want, the I Could Do It Betters won’t let up, at least until they find a new outlet for their hostilities.

There’s a man online who has been doing a remarkable job of bringing light to the issue of homelessness. It was his vision, his idea and his efforts that resulted in a mission that has gathered steam, sponsors and many, many supporters. And while I’ve been neutral in the past about social programs that “raise awareness” — believing that direct, one-on-on support is more critical — Mark Horvath’s InvisiblePeople.tv has gained my respect. His pinpoint focus and tireless travels across the United States and Canada have resulted in more than just awareness and sympathy. His interviews with homeless people have spurred real offers of help and assistance. Further, in giving the homeless a direct opportunity to tell their stories to the world — to look into the camera and in their own words talk about their situations and feelings — Mark has given a powerful voice to those “invisible” people whom society has often ignored or dismissed.

I’ve followed Mark’s journey online for about a year. While it doesn’t surprise me that his mission has been attacked recently by a group of I Could Do It Betters, what I do find disturbing is how far they’ve been willing to go to get other people to jump on their hateful (and I must say, seemingly jealousy-driven, bandwagon). They’ve tweeted his sponsors and threatened to never do business with them. They’ve made YouTube videos questioning his ethics. They’ve accused Mark of exploiting the homeless for his own gain, of being a limelight seeker, of not answering questions to their satisfaction — even of passing out the wrong kind of donated food. Their claims have gotten ridiculous and out of hand — they’ll criticize anything from Pop Tarts to socks — but they seem to delight in any opportunity to assail Mark’s “motives”, his tactics and his character.

Having followed Mark’s mission for over a year, I know that not even one of the accusations are even partially true. This is a simply a bold case of I Could Do It Better by people who, hypocritically, are seeking attention for themselves. They seem to resent the (well-deserved) praise InvisiblePeople.tv has received and believe they could do a better job with the resources Mark has gathered.

My question to the armchair critics would be — if you believe you could do better, why don’t you? Instead of all that energy spent denigrating one person’s efforts, why not build your own mission from scratch? What’s stopping you from rallying support for your own better ideas and solutions?

The answers are, of course, apparent. Lacking their own will, drive and ideas to actually affect change and improve the world around them, the I Could Do It Betters would rather imagine that they could — if only they were Mark. If only they had had the idea and put the work in. If only they had spent the great amount of time and care that Mark has gathering support. If only they were given the opportunity.

However, the I Could Do It Betters have to know that Mark wasn’t given his mission — he created it out of his own vision and ideals and then worked very hard to make it a reality. There’s nothing to stop others from doing the same (or even better) should they ever choose to leave the comfort of their armchairs and take the real-world actions they believe would be an improvement.

You can learn more about Mark Horvath and his mission to help homeless people by visiting InvisiblePeople.tv, or by following @hardlynormal and @invisiblepeople on Twitter.

Today’s post is a guest post by the novelist and essayist, Jane Devin. We’re delighted she stopped by to bark and walk in our back yard and welcome her any time she wants to wander in. If you haven’t already, buy her book, Elephant Girl. It is nothing short of amazing.

When we fail as readers, we fail as writers

I read this article in the NY TImes this week about e-books adding music to the “experience.” Champions of this technology justify it by saying it adds to the experience, enhances imagination, meets readers where they are, blah, blah, blah.

I have not yet worked out all the feelings I have about this, but I am down to one thing: Parents and teachers need to teach young readers how to hear the sounds that words on the page produce through the ear of their own imagination. Readers need to be able to create the characters and the settings in their minds through imagination. They need to learn how the cadence, rhythm and rhyme of the words produces the “soundtrack” that propels the reader through the book.

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Turning scars into art – A podcast with Jane Devin

Jane Devin, author of Elephant Girl

UPDATE: Jane’s book is now available for Kindle at Amazon.com. Other formats to follow, so please follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

I was following the babble of Neil Kramer one afternoon and one of his tweets led to me to Jane Devin. She was just another blogger who published articles on Huffington Post but anyone who could wrangle a byline on HuffPost was probably someone worth reading. I read her post there and click over to her blog.

I should have read in the reverse order.

I think I lost a few hours poring over the shards of her soul pieced together in the essays on her blog.

I learned that Jane recently took a nine-month road trip across America and wrote a blog about the experience. Following the road trip, she wrote a book, Elephant Girl, from the cab of a borrowed truck in a coffee shop parking lot. But if I say any more, it would ruin the story.

So, in her own words, Jane Devin talks to me about Elephant Girl. I hope you enjoy listening to her as much as I did interviewing her.

When Elephant Girl is published later this year, we will have information on how you can pick up a copy. It is an intense memoir of “a challenged life lived with imagination.” It is worth every minute your heart and soul will lose within its pages.

Editor’s note:
Jane has established a Facebook page for her book. Please like it.

MP3 File

Confessions of the creative wannabe

I remember buying a tape recorder at Radio Shack when I was twelve or thirteen years old. It was one of those old ones that you loaded the cassette tape into the top and plugged in a wired microphone. I remember how excited I was that this piece of gear would allow me to record sounds that had never been recorded before, including my own voice. When you’re young, you think the sound of your own voice is pretty cool. As you get older, you discover not so much.

I got bored pretty quickly with the recorder as I thought a 16mm video camera would be even cooler. I never did get one, but only because VHS video cameras came out before I had enough money to buy one. I hear nobody makes 16mm movie camera anymore.

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My little dopamine spritz #twittermakesyoustupid

Bill Keller New York Times

Last week, Bill Keller (@nytkeller) Executive Editor, The New York Times tweeted out: “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. discuss.” And I wrote a blog post that was a half tongue-in-cheek job application and half… naw, it was a job application.

I suspected his tweet was done to get some material for a column he would eventually write and I tore through my Times every day looking for it. Sure enough, there is was (online, but in print this coming Sunday.) I’m sure he read my blog post because he called twitter a “helpful organizing tool for… dog-lover meet-ups…”

My phone will be ringing any day now!

Almost immediately, Mat Honan, Editor of Gizmodo wrote a blog post lambasting Mr. Keller for his views. It would have been easier to take seriously had he used appropriate AP style, not resorted to name-calling, did not employ obvious logical flaws and stayed away from using curse words. It is also obvious that Mr. Honan was in a state of heightened agitation when he wrote the post.

All of this, of course, just went to prove Mr. Keller’s points about “our ability to reflect” and twitter being the “enemy of contemplation.” Had Mr. Honan thought a bit more about what Mr. Keller was trying to say, he may not have been as incendiary and hyperbolic in his response.

The world has changed is crap
As I was writing a #letsblogoff post last month, I was also listening to a speech by yet another social media expert who asserted, “The world has changed…” and I thought that was the most absurd thing I had ever heard. That is not a truth. That is not even a fact. The fact is this moment has changed from the last moment and the moment before that. “The world is ALWAYS changing…” is more the truth. The truth is most people either did not notice the changes or lied to themselves about them happening.

When I was selling exercise bikes to paralyzed people, I worked with a biomedical engineer who was a great philosopher but didn’t really know it. “Biology works on a sine wave,” he was fond of saying. It was his job to make the binary bits (on/off) of technology works within that natural wave. For example, while he could make a muscle contract instantaneously, it would create intolerable pain and dangerous reactions for the patient. He therefore had to ramp up the contraction slowly, hold a contraction and then ramp it down.

Bear with me; I’m getting to the relevant parts. You aren’t fidgeting, are you?

Technology works on a binary framework. Things are either on or they are off. Biology works like a potentiometer, in degrees of on or off relative to each other. The two are almost always incompatible as the human brain struggles to stuff the digital parts into the sine wave of biology. Try as we might, no matter how much we talk about becoming cyborgs, the human brain will always be an analog, biological mass, tied to that sine wave. This makes learning hard and frustrating. You can’t just plug a thumb drive into your ear and transfer knowledge. Nor can you transfer wisdom or context. Technologist predict we will eventually, but I hope they are wrong.

So what we are is a mesh of technologies of varying degrees. Just because twitter exists, it doesn’t mean conversation ends. Just because we have Kindles, it doesn’t mean books are dead. Just because we have blogs, it doesn’t mean newspapers are dead. Media — like biology — exists on a sine wave.

Jeff Jarvis unwittingly proves Keller’s point
Predictably, Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) offered some tweets to refute Mr. Keller’s post. They were:

Just as Erasmus warned of the danger of the press, @nytkeller warns of the danger of Twitter. Oy. http://nyti.ms/iOAy6f

@nytkeller=Erasmus, who said: “To what corner of the world do they not fly, these swarms of new books?” #1

#nytkeller=Erasmus: Books are “hurtful to scholarship, because it creates a glut and even in good things satiety is most harmful” #2

@nytkeller=Erasmus: The minds of men “flighty and curious of anything new” would be distracted from “the study of old authors.” #3

I think that just reaffirms Mr. Keller’s points about knowing stuff. Obviously, Mr. Jarvis knows who Erasmus is and was familiar with his quotes. While it is possible he Googled “obscure quotes from dead guys on the books,” I very much doubt it. Mr. Jarvis was well equipped to argue a point with Mr. Keller without looking up supporting evidence. Hmmmm…

Mat Honan did the same thing with Socrates in his blog post. Sorta.

It’s about adaptability
At the end, Mr. Keller may be slightly concerned that we are becoming a species that is dependent on the longest lasting battery and is not acquiring and sustaining the skills to be able to exist by “clock and fist.”

While our use of technology may have the net effect of our species advancing for now, it does not develop the individuals of the species. Cut the power, you create a bunch of people who have no clue how to survive. The most adaptable will not be the ones who know how to program their GPS units but the ones who can navigate by the stars, clock and fist.

I think ultimately, though, Mr. Keller is calling on us to stay adaptable. Our very survival depends on it.

A thousand words in a million keystrokes

This morning, I pulled the dust cover off the old manual typewriter, rolled a sheet of paper into the carriage and typed something. I wanted to see what it felt like again to be a “real writer.”

In truth, it felt like getting on an old bike after having not ridden for years; slow going at first… a lot of fits and starts but eventually that rhythm… aw, who am I kidding. It was painful as heck. It felt more like learning how to walk and talk again after someone hit you upside the noggin with a hammer and broke both your legs with a Louisville slugger.

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