The Privacy/Fame Junta

The next Junta will be about privacy and whether our idea of privacy needs to be recalibrated in a world where technology seems to dig ever deeper into our lives.

The debates surrounding settings on Facebook and what Google knows about you are pretty well known. Rindy even went so far as to take himself off Facebook because he was unhappy about their policies. Like most good Juntas, there will be differing views. I am concerned about how much Google, Facebook, and the government for that matter, know about my life. But I also see the point that people (or rather businesses) make about how having information about you is helpful, and generally harmless. If I’m on Facebook or Google and one of the advertisements on the side is for guitar strings (which might interest me) instead of dog-food (I hate dogs… kidding) that is probably a good thing. I think the debate gets a little hysterical with people worrying about their personal information being mined by Facebook or Google in terrifying ways.

I saw another good example of this kind of helpful data-mining on 60 Minutes recently. They profiled the rather incredible Khan Academy–which features easy, free lessons on a huge range of subjects for students–and they have benefited strongly by tracking its user trends and shaping their product around it.

I think about this at work sometimes. I work in corporate investigations and the US has the most open public records in the world. I can find out about criminal records, litigation, political donations, generally confirm education credentials, find out if someone has filed for bankruptcy, discover exactly what property they own, and a huge variety of other things from my desk. That might be bad news for someone with something to hide, or just for those who might find it horrifying to know that that information is just out there. But you could also argue that if you’re a business about to hire someone or make an acquisition (and want to know that the business you’re about to buy isn’t run by someone you don’t want to be associated with), having the ability to easily access this information makes the market-place more efficient. In many other parts of the world–advanced or developing–this process takes longer and is more costly.

I’m hoping we can take the idea of privacy and also flip it a bit. The opposite is fame, and what it means to be famous today is stranger than ever. Reality TV has changed pop culture and created an odd variety of fame. The internet and the 24/7 news cycle has changed how we look at celebrity and how much we know about people. I’d like to hear what people have to say about this. It’s easy to turn your nose up to Reality TV, but many of us have at least one show that we’ve enjoyed from the Reality TV universe, and probably at least one of its stars we’ve admired. And do we think that something is lost when it comes to admiring public figures when we now know so much and they can so quickly fall from grace? Was it better in the past when celebrities generally had a bit more mystery about them?

I also think about the idea of ambition in all of this, seeking fame. When I was younger I used think about achieving fame through writing or playing music. I don’t really think about that anymore, though I still do both. And maybe I do both of those things now from a place that is more sincere having removed a lot of blind ambition from the equation. There is a passage from Ayn Rand’s “Fountainhead” that I think about often.

The Enright House rented promptly. The tenants who moved in were people who wanted to live in sane comfort and cared about nothing else. They did not discuss the value of the building; they merely liked living there. They were the sort of people who lead useful, active private lives in public silence.

“Useful, active private lives in public silence.” I like the idea of that. I don’t begrudge fame or those who seek it, but I like the idea of finding meaning in ways that aren’t predicated upon the approval of others. I also like to live my life in the open. I often say I’m better at keeping other people’s secrets than my own, so my idea of privacy might be different than yours. Let’s discuss.

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