Edward Snowden unfurled a political maelstrom around privacy - the recent expiration of the Patriot Act provisions reminds us of what's at stake, and begs us to think about what we value. As the privacy debate develops, however, it seems more and more apparent that our own willingness to submit to an obscure digital matrix is neglected. There is a pervasive sentiment that we are being watched - a voyeurism of the digital age - and this translates into suspicion and resentment. Yet, an equally ubiquitous willingness to be digitally noticed seems inherent, and in dramatic juxtaposition to the fears for our privacy. Uninformed, nonchalant, vainglorious, or simply aware - we post, tweet, instagram, vying it would seem for more. I don't mean to hyperbolize the digital zeitgeist - we're not all mad for it - but I do mean to highlight a rift between what we say and what we do. It's apparent that there is an indifference wedged between our fears for privacy and our digital wants - a privacy malaise, so to speak, a dragged out discomfort not strong enough to overcome our desires for technology, but strong enough to create an articulate, albeit fairly actionless, displeasure for invasiveness.
I should also clarify that I don't mean to expound on the government's overreaching, at least at this time. I am presently intrigued by the psychology technology seems to have brought upon us - or rather brought out from within us. A recent Pew study, conducted in early 2015, found that most Americans have strong opinions about the importance of privacy in their daily lives. "The majority of Americans believe it is important – often 'very important' – that they be able to maintain privacy and confidentiality in commonplace activities of their lives." Conversely, we've done little to protect ourselves and our information from prying eyes, expected systems failures, and human error. We renege to employ the roster of self-protecting privacy-enhancing techniques to regain some control, like browsing the Web anonymously or encrypting our text messages. It's true that we more readily adopt everyday measures, like clearing cookies or browser history, using a temporary username/password, and the like - the lazy solutions. Somehow, a quixotic Facebook thinks we'll import our public PGP keys into our Facebook settings, and protect our emails. Our response is to articulate this prevailing feeling of losing control over our information. According to the same Pew study, only 9% of Americans feel they have a lot of control over how their information is collected and used. We announce our worry unabashedly, yet we do little to change it. I can't say this lack of action is attributable to only digital indifference, to not caring - there's no doubt that our knowledge and awareness of digital speak is unceremoniously awry. Perhaps more interestingly, however, our behavioral impulses knock us out of our wits. Inebriated, emotional, supercilious, bored, we indulge in our simple humanity, jumping freely, often spontaneously, from the precipice of thoughtful decision-making and into a mentality of share-happy. The result of this often unrestrained psychology to share, combined with a snooping government and the list of private institutions parleying, breeds widespread concern. But it's a slothful one in which we continue to post baby photos, self quotations, and twerk attempts anyway.The indifference is like the bottleneck in an hour-glass - muting our fears for privacy as we favor our digital gluttony.
If we imagine an America where the government keeps our private affairs off the NSA radar, we would run into similar problems - data breaching, the fallouts of human error, a feeling of invasiveness, voyeurism, but we would spend more time pointing fingers at private institutions and people. The onus of blame becomes more readily available as we peel away the layers. Our own, misguided, humanity eventually comes to the fore - undisguised as our own appetite for being digitally noticed.
Technology makes our lives more intriguing, less because it invents new things to do and more because it enables hidden habits living within us. We're being snooped on enough without the NSA. We're snooping on ourselves. None of this contradiction seems to bother us enormously - enough to even look up privacy-enhancing tools. We're punch-drunk love over the technology that seduces us. Vanity, grandstanding, time-saving. It's just too addictive, too carnal to deny.
So, we choose to wake up with a digital hangover - the breaching, the newsfeed depression, the waste of otherwise productive thinking, the highly confidential email sent anyway, the intangible fear that lost pieces of ourselves are forever out there. We've giddily driven straight into our e-Jurassic Park, enticed by the thrill, only to get entwined in the blood and bits. Add the NSA to this mix and, well, it's the perfect storm following the "just do, then think" human plight. For now, we're living the after effects - the privacy malaise.
Is there a solution? Knowledge and awareness is a given - understanding technology is a gradual undertaking that will hopefully caution us to think before we act, or at least use tools to protect us from the consequences of our over-acting. Eventually the hour glass will tip in favor of our fears for privacy. But you'd think, with the superfluous idea-making out there, that there's a Silicon Valley solution to this madness. Isn't that what the big data bubble is all about? A gold rush mentality to building solutions to the data landfills we've recklessly churned out? Why can't we harp on the same carnal human behavior driving us to divulge information, and use it toward a more useful endeavor. Beat the thing at its own game, so to speak. Dignify the digital desire.
According to the 2015 Pew Study, most Americans believe that there should be a length of time in which records of their activity can be retained. I can't say I know that there's a relationship between this sentiment and the adoption of ephemeral and anonymous apps, but I'm keen on finding out. The sad thing is, in many ways, the most famous ephemeral and anonymous apps are a reincarnation of the old, attaching themselves to an almost petty intrigue. They protect us from old habits, but abet new, perhaps even more wasteful ones. Be that as it may, we're reminded that the strongest incentive for adoption is inherent - as if technology is this race to find the hidden behaviors resting within us all. Ephemeral and anonymous have an allure the way social gazing does, a behavior strong enough to affirm our appreciation for the fleeting and hidden.
I believe that over time technology will mean a greater focus on real problems and needed utility, as opposed to enabling our wantonness. But more than this, I'm intrigued by the ways in which human rawness can be accessible for more than just a pithy fulfillment, a transient dick pic - I'm intrigued by the ways in which it can truly protect us, maybe even make a dent in the data crisis.