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.
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