So, what is the password on your Blackberry?
What is it? I know my mom’s. You want to know it, it is…
No, I don’t want to know your mom’s cellphone access code.
The eight-year old is a bit upset that I will only let her play with the Blackberry, but won’t share the password, a concept of which she obviously does not understand the meaning.
This episode brought back the memory of yet another little girl in Cambodia, the daughter of new acquaintances. Based on an afternoon spent together for the first time ever the day before, she was willing to share all of her family secrets during a chance encounter the following Monday at the Phnom Penh market. When her mother returned from whatever errand she was running, she half-joked that the only thing her daughter had not shared with us was the safe combination. It is likely that on the way home the little girl was reminded that some things are private and not to be shared with what boiled down to almost perfect strangers.
Then it is the next seat neighbour who, on the flight back from my last week’s mission, is keeping tabs on the number of drinks I order (and drink). He also is noticeably unimpressed at the fact that I am keeping away from salad and raw fish, in acknowledgement of the more than six colleagues who suffered from food poisoning during our stay at the fancy establishment we stayed at during the trip. The thought crosses my mind that maybe I should explain I normally love my greens, but… Of course not, no need to explain anything. He can think whatever he wants, he is just a temporary witness of my semi-private semi-public behaviour, and I will never see him again. And I have a right to keep to myself, even on a flight.
The magazine I am reading on the flight reminds me that Facebook is soon about to welcome its 500 millionth user. The May 31, 2010 issue of Time is marking the event with a cover story on Facebook and the issue of privacy. In a connected world that has become smaller, a Nairobi newspaper was expressing similar privacy concerns about Facebook just a week earlier, as were a number of media around the globe. Unfortunately, the article I had saved and placed on my bedside table for later reading was trashed by the hotel maid before I was able to get around to it. There is no real privacy in an hotel room: a friend of mine always leaves the Do not disturb sign on the door knob for the duration of her stay as she (maybe rightfully) views hotel staff re-arranging the room as an intrusion.
Very recently, I gave in to convenience and reluctantly started using Fandango to reserve tickets in advance for just opening movies that were sure to be sold out by the time we would get to the theater. Having been the victim of identity theft, I tend to err on the side of caution. But using the service twice in the same week convinced me that registering was the way to go. I gave in and signed up to save time on each of my upcoming movie ticket purchase. As I reluctantly entered my personal information, I was concerned that nothing is truly private in the online world. And sure enough, I started getting my fair share of unwelcome Fandango emails.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Fandango and other new media are slowly redefining the way we look at the right to privacy. While early adopters quickly embraced new media, a number of people looked at the phenomenon quite cautiously. Gradually, however, people around me who, for the longest time resisted signing on to Facebook for fear of exposing their privacy, started giving in, as I am sure hundreds of others have.
What are the new boundaries between the private and the public arenas?
This blog is both public and private. Public in the sense that it can be accessed publically over the internet by anyone who chances upon it. Private because, I will only tell that I am the author to people with whom I feel comfortable sharing this information. Recently, someone I had told about this site mentioned my blog during a luncheon. This person not only mentioned it but, without even checking with me, sent the address to our lunch companions. I felt my permission should have been asked first, not that it is a secret, but whether or not to share should be my decision. Did this oversharing constitute an intrusion on my right to privacy, however?
Protecting my password in a one on one exchange with a pressing little girl seems OK, although I am not sure what risk I would seriously have incurred by giving her my password. The conversation with the little girl at the Phnom Penh market seemed pretty innocuous, until her mother took exception at her oversharing with people who after all were mostly strangers.
Being aware of my next seat neighbour’s silent judgement on my choice of meal is OK. What do I really care? I usually prefer to keep to myself on a flight and not speak to the next seat neighbour, apart from the polite Hello, as we sit down.
In a companion piece to the Time cover article, a commentary introduced the concept of intimate strangers. Friends once or twice removed will check Facebook or Twitter status updates for people they actually don’t know. At a time when oversharing is becoming the norm, we are all becoming voyeurs to others’ supposed exhibitionism. If we only want to share with people we trust, it becomes our responsibility to carefully understand how to use the privacy settings that Facebook provides.
In our new interconnected age, we need to redefine what we see as our right to privacy and set up the guidelines – at the individual, family, or community level - that will ensure proper respect for a private life.