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.

Is this thing on?

Flag primping before a press conference

Flag primping before a press conference

In a word, yes. This thing is always on.

The photo to the right was tweeted out by Jim Long who is a “veteran, Washington, DC based, network news cameraman currently working for one of the original three broadcasters” (@newmediajim) He frequently sends out photos of the stuff that happens behind the scenes while waiting for news conferences, set ups, stuff like that. Anyone who has ever worked behind the camera knows that those blocks of time are tedious beyond tolerance.

I appreciate the glimpses. And the Foursquare checkins with bagels and coffee, but that is an entirely different addiction. He assures me he is seeking professional help.

What was striking about the photo is the flags that will be seen by the television viewing public all puffed up and patriotic behind whomever is speaking in the next hour or so were unceremoniously carried into the room in a bucket, like something one would shlep to a beer party on the beach. To the people setting up the room, the bucket ‘o flags was secondary to the actual staged set.

Only it wasn’t because this thing was on.

And now every time I see flags puffed up behind a Washington DC news conference, I will see the bucket ‘o flags. Chances are, you will too.

The “behind the scenes” has become part of the show. FootnoteTV wrote this post about creativity and how seeing the puppet master destroys the puppet show (my paraphrasing.) I do this all the time with literature and unsuspecting writers like Saxon Henry (@saxonhenry) by digging into why a story ticks and then trying unsuccessfully to stuff all the pieces back together. It gets rebuilt, but like taking apart a finely crafted clock to see how it ticks and then putting it back together, the chimes never quite sound as rich.

I guess my point is — if I have to admit to one — is the set up of the stage is now also part of the show. For the flag set up, the staff should construct a special box where the flags are carried in with ceremony, and assembled and puffed up* as part of the production. And then when the press conference is over, the same ceremony gets performed again in reverse. Everything that happens on this side of the door should be assumed to be on camera.

This thing is on. Always.

*Ok, gonna spoil it even more. The flags are fluffed and filled out by forming and placing wire hangers in the flags. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

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Why Skype+Facebook makes a ton of sense

The rules for us old timers are: 1) Never leave a voicemail or send an email that you didn’t want repeated. 2) Always call from a pay phone when you didn’t want Caller ID to show up 3) Phone calls were never evidence because they could not be recorded without your permission. In short, you had an expectation of reasonable privacy on a personal phone conversation.

Skype, Google Voice and the whole crop of VoiP phones are throwing all those rules out of the window. All of them have been working on text-to-speach as a way of delivering “convenience” to their users. But since the actual phone call also flows through a digital stream and is data, not voice as regulated by the FCC, it is just more content that can be transcribed by a text-to-speach engine. Once transcribed, it can be matched up with keywords and ads can be served in real-time to your Facebook or Gmail as you talk.

Pretty handy, eh?

Are you sure you want to keep using Skype or Google Voice? You will. They know you will.

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