Gossip may not be the “world’s oldest profession,” but it may be the second. I’m sure there was a source in the Garden of Eden who broke the story about Eve and the apple. I’m thinking it was the snake (#Eve). We, the public, “love us some dirt” but usually dirt about others. People have long been interested in the doings of their neighbors, but injecting one’s self into the public realm is a recent phenomenon.
Traditionally, those of us living a less public or celebrated existence were content to keep to ourselves. Privacy was valued and important, if not sacred. That has changed, and people today are more inclined to share the details of their private lives. Social media websites are the most-visited websites in the world. I recently watched a Ted Talk by a speaker who argued that privacy is an outdated and useless concept. What we know about other people’s lives and the penetration into the private details of someone’s thoughts, speech, actions, and tastes has never been so vast.
For people in high-profile occupations like entertainment, politics, sports, and certain businesses, the rules have always been different. Public figures have long been the subject of fascination to the public, and the price of celebrity has been less privacy.
For the media who cover public figures, what to share and what not to share is not so simple, because even if one media outlet sets a high standard for what they will or won’t use (All The News That’s Fit To Print) there is always another one with a lower bar (Inquiring Minds Want To Know). When, by chance, the mainstream media passes on something to report, you can be certain social media will publish it. But it is safe to say that for most media, ignoring what the public clamors for is suicide.
A long understood part of this reality is that businesses and public figures manipulate how the public perceives them. Strategically releasing information about one’s self is called Publicity, and armies of careers are built to do it. It is understandable that public figures fade into obscurity if they don’t manage their brands across traditional and social media platforms, but why do people who were once anonymous feel the urge to share intimate details of their lives? How have we gone from being individual creatures, to herd members, to citizens of societies, to consumers, and now to being brands?
The compulsion to place oneself in the public eye has expanded into the lives of almost everyone. Managing one’s brand seems to be just another way of saying, “Look at Me!”
I value solitude and the quiet of my own thoughts. (#Curmudgeon) I enjoy walking places in the world by myself, and being disconnected from the herd. In a world of Google Earth and expanding surveillance in every dimension of life, I value being invisible and anonymous. I don’t feel the urge to share whom I love, how I worship, what I eat, where I travel, and what I support with everyone. But, to be clear, privacy and secrecy are not the same. If you damage or manipulate others while concealing your misdeeds behind a veil of privacy, that is secrecy and I think the role of responsible media is to protect others from the abuses of power and privilege.
Ten years ago I opened a Facebook account to market a novel I wrote. I regretted it immediately, especially when I discovered how much other people used Facebook to expose things about themselves that didn’t interest me. Within a year, I had enough and shut it down. I thought I had killed it off only to find out that it was actually sitting dormant for years.
Discovering that, I killed it off forever, (#Delusion), with a great sense of satisfaction, but it was no simple task requiring garlic, mirrors, sunshine, wolf bane and a crucifix, (“Die Dracula, die!”)
I have no interest in the private lives of others, but am realistic enough to understand that my opinion is irrelevant. I know I’m the Luddite stubbornly refusing to use the newfangled automobile in the early 1900s, or the telephone in the 1930s.
I understand the modern world cares not one iota about what I do, and I understand there are many uses of social media that bind people together in joyful ways. I think it’s great when Facebook ties together families and keeps people connected, but it doesn’t change my sense that we’ve evolved into chattering narcissists validating our lives by broadcasting unnecessary and private details.
It saddens me that fewer people experience the sanctuary of anonymity.
Years ago (#Rantingoldman) I read that privacy is the respectful act of ignoring the details of another person’s life that do not pertain to you. That is a mouthful for sure, but the point is, we can choose what we respond to and we can cultivate respect for others’ privacy. That I know something about you does not make it mine to share. I think we are diminished when we believe the private details of others’ lives belong to us. I think it cheapens us, and shifts our focus from the common good to the common bad.
(#Genieoutofthebottle) I think privacy is both a human right and a need, disappearing through careless acts of self-revelation and commercial exploitation. Further, in a world of information tracking by companies like Facebook, Instagram, Google, and Amazon, where your absence reveals you as much as your presence, there simply is no place to hide anymore in a garden laden with apples and filled with snakes.
If you need to reach me, I cannot be reached at #joeyrantings.
You can actually write to Joey at