Sunday, May 14, 2006 and the end of privacy

Last weekend I was reading in a coffeehouse when I faced one of my least-favorite social moments, seated next to two people having a personal conversation that I did not want to hear.

These were two seemingly educated, shabby-chic adults in their early thirties, discussing their journalism careers and job searches. The subject turned to a tragedy that affected their mutual friend. They discussed the delicate etiquette of wanting to be there for a friend but not press hard on an awkward personal matter.

"You should leave her a message on MySpace, just saying that you're there for her in case she needs anything," one suggested to the other.

Far be it from me to second-guess anyone else's choice of how to communicate with a friend. That's not the issue here. MySpace -- just another brick in Rupert Murdoch's media hegemony -- has 75 million members, according to a recent New Yorker article.

If we believe last week's Washington Post poll showing that 63 percent of the public approves of the NSA's blanket monitoring of every phone call made inside the United States, imagine what the number will be in 20 years. MySpace is a corporate vehicle that feeds on commercial trends and user validation. It's benign enough in isolation to post a list of favorite bands, TV shows, liquors and sex acts. But when these harmless exercises of self-expression and ego-gratification are part of a 75 million-person database at Rupert Murdoch's fingertips, MySpace is not a social networking tool, but the world's most valuable market research study.

You think you're signing up for a site to keep up with your friends and your favorite bands. (I signed up a few weeks ago when I found out that The Hold Steady keeps a MySpace page, so call me a hypocrite.) That may be what you have in mind, but that's not what the site's gatekeepers care about.

Once you get used to exposing yourself online, it's a short leap to conceding other aspects of your privacy, because shit, if your MySpace profile exalts Cuervo Gold, fingerbanging and "My Humps," you're less likely to care whether the NSA tracks calls to your sister or your girlfriend.

John Cassidy's article in last week's New Yorker is a little chilling if you're tuned to the NSA's data-mining escapades. (Unfortunately, the article is not posted online.) According to the article, -- a second-generation MySpace that targets college kids -- has become ubiquitous at elite universities. I've heard of the site, but didn't realize how pervasive it is.

I'm 29, but I feel like the gap between me and the personal networking phenomonen is three generations.

Here's where we will be in thirty years: a consumer class comprised of tens of millions of technology-savvy, educated purchasers have volunteered to join an online Camp X-Ray. They're at ease with telling corporations everything, and given the blurring line between corporations and federal law enforcement, there will be few remaining privacy limits that people care about.

It will seem quaint that anyone objected when the government tapped their phones or logged their calls. When you're at ease using Rupert Murdoch's platform to acknowledge a friend's personal tragedy, you've given up a lot.


waterloo said...

Hey Crimenotes,

In line with this post, consider adding these two novels to your reading list:

"Jennifer Government" by Max Barry


"Pattern Recognition" by William Gibson.

Flop said...

I think that's the first time I've ever known my co-blogger to use the term "fingerbanging."

I guess because this is an anonymous blog, he's more comfortable here.

CrimeNotes said...

Waterloo: I've heard of both books but don't know much about them. Tell me more. I'm very interested in these issues.

Flop: You should check out my other site, fingerbangblog.

waterloo said...

Crimenotes: "Jennifer Government" is a fast-paced, dystopian novel about a corporate-ruled world. There are private armies, corporate states, and, given the nature of this fictional world, marketing is even MORE important and pervasive. Check out:

Barry also inspired an interesting nation-state simulation called, well ... NationStates:

I'm sure you've heard of William Gibson's "Neuromancer," one of the best pre-Web novels that anticipated the online/virtual world (sort of Matrix-esque). Gibson focuses on mass marketing in "Pattern Recognition" -- in fact, the main character is a top-tier marketing consultant (one of those seekers of "cool") who is hired to investigate a peculiar Internet video.

While these novels don't specifically address the issues raised by MySpace, they are great depictions of the logical progression of marketing gone awry. I read them awhile ago; I wish I could be more specific.

I'd add "Blade Runner" to this list, too ... and heck, almost every good science fiction work ... interesting how science fiction seems to deal with the consequences of unfettered capitalism as much as it does unfettered technology.

waterloo said...

Oh yes -- suggestions for your soundtrack while reading either novel:

"Outside" by David Bowie
"Amnesiac" by Radiohead