For a society which quickly and loudly leaps to the defense of individual privacy rights, we sure spend an awful lot of time stripping it away from ourselves.
With one hand, we wave the U. S. Constitution in the face of anyone who we think intends to intrude on our personal space, while with the other we tweet, text, e-mail, access Facebook, and circulate cell phone photographs, inviting others to sift through our innermost thoughts and actions and leer at pictures snapped in a moment of carelessness.
Why is that we insist on an unlisted telephone number or react with indignation when a bank teller requests a photo identification before cashing a check, but aren’t bothered by informing hundreds of people in 140 characters or less that you’re dating a new person for the first time and what your plans are for the end of the evening.
From Congressmen posting photos of their intimate parts on their Twitter account to teenagers engaging in cell phone sexting; from e-mails to girlfriends (remember Tiger Woods?) to Facebook rants about an overbearing and incompetent boss, increasing numbers of normally introverted people have become infected with a virus which compels them to use social media the way a sinner uses the confessional.
And, like the priest-penitent sacred confidential relationship, the users somehow delude themselves into believing their posts, tweets and photos will remain secret.
Recently, a teacher in Union County placed her job in jeopardy after taking to her Facebook page and expressing her belief that homosexuality was sinful, while a candidate for the Senate from Camden County used his Twitter account to offer unsolicited sexual performance advice. He later claimed his messages had been hijacked and distorted by his Democratic opponents before finally fessing up to it and suggesting his advice was well worth heeding.
While those caught up in embarrassing or controversial situations argued their postings were personal and not intended for broader circulation, it is undeniable that social media has become a public forum. Anyone who enters it forfeits any expectation of privacy.
How can anyone realistically believe that e-mailing a close friend or relative and revealing an affair, for example, will not in a matter of hours become grist for the gossip mill?
The same applies to tweets and texts, which, once accessed by their intended recipients, can be spread to any number of others in an astonishing burst of lightning-like exponential growth.
In the electronic communication world in which we live, nothing remains confidential for very long and only the foolhardy believe it is. A secret, as has been said, remains a secret only for as long as it takes one person to tell another. And, in the case of social media, once it’s exposed, it’s out there forever no matter how many times or how frantically someone hits the delete button.
Perhaps it is because of the generation of which I am a member or of my inability to master the dozens of bewildering functions of the communications networks at my disposal, but I have not and shall not take advantage of any of it.
It is, moreover, remarkably presumptuous of me to think that anyone is sufficiently interested in my daily doings to breathlessly await a tweet like the following:
“Heading 2 pharmacy 2 pick up allergy meds. Gr8.”
The only people interested are my physician who prescribed it, the pharmacist who was paid for it and me who needs it. Why would I be so incredibly self-absorbed to believe that anyone else cares?
I own a cell phone with texting capability, but its use is limited to my calling someone or someone calling me the old fashioned way. It also has a camera which I haven’t figured out how to use and besides, if I want photo memories of vacations or my kids’ birthday parties, I’ll use a camera made expressly for that purpose rather than asking friends and relatives to “ooh and ahh” while squinting to make out an image on a two-by-two inch cell phone screen.
While I do use the e-mail function of my personal computer, I am careful to keep the cyber missives sufficiently innocuous. I try to confine them to things like “how are you?” or “happy birthday” or “sorry to hear you’re not feeling well.” If someone else reads them, I’m in the clear.
For more important conversations, I fall back on the reliable landline telephone. Nothing in writing, no misunderstood context, no third party snooping.