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The concept and idea of privacy is one which continues to exist in fewer and smaller instances in this generation. The advent of new technologies, of mobile communication, instant messaging and the virtual omnipresence afforded by these said devices has made it easier for individuals to connect and communicate with their friends, families, colleagues, society and the rest of the world through the most effortless of gestures or the simple press of a button.
This convenience by way of interaction has brought most to indulge and engage in communication with other people regardless of where they are, and whether or not they are in hearing range of other people not directly concerned with the matter being discussed; thus blurring the lines of private boundaries, or pronouncing it non-existent altogether. Technology is growing in its ability to bridge the gaps which separate individuals from each other, but it is also proving that a significant amount of people do not want these gaps bridged.
It has ceased to exact surprise and amazement from people when certain individuals indulge in obnoxiously loud conversations, private or otherwise, in a crowded or public place and within earshot of everybody else in the near vicinity. Gone are the days of the now seemingly foreign and obsolescent idea of commuting long distance conversations through and from a telephone box; mobile communication has rendered it impractical. Cellphones have become an almost indispensable part of every individual living in the 21st century, in a generation of displaced people, of individuals always out on the move trying to be all that they can be, mobile communication is a lifeline. Cellphones exist to ensure that certain parts of humanity will thrive by way of social interaction, or it could just be an efficient avenue for conducting business transactions, and similar practical dealings devoid of personal sentiments.
Whether or not mobile interactions constitute personal or business agenda however, its nagging and growing occurrence in public places nevertheless crosses boundaries of privacy, and oversteps on the right of other people to avail of it. The director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Rutgers University, James Katz, poses the reality of this by saying, “if anything characterizes the 21st century, it’s our inability to restrain ourselves for the benefit of other people,” he proceeds to emphasize this concept by saying “the cellphone talker thinks his rights go above that of people around him, and the jammer thinks his are the more important rights.” The ‘jammer’ Katz was referring to exists in the person of a ‘cellphone vigilante’ who invented a device to cut off cellphone communication from cell towers, jamming radio frequencies, and thereby silencing the ‘phone blabber’ in question.
But carrying out loud and obnoxious conversations to the point of failing to address the personal boundaries of other individuals isn’t the only threat to people’s privacy that cellphones are wielding, another form of it exists under the seemingly harmless and non-threatening platform that is ‘Twitter.’
Twitter is a program which affords the people using it the ‘virtual intimacy’ and networking connection of a blog, made efficient and automatic through mobile phones. Twitter has gained significant popularity among its many users, enabling them to post packets of current life events, sentiments and similar ego-indulging stream of consciousness centering on the mundane, trivial, and/or pressing issues running through the course and extent of their existence and the everyday grind (Cohen).
An article in The New York Times negates the seeming harmlessness of the virtual communication platform by covering the story of a computer consultant from Florida who announced suicide late one night by way of driving his car on a bridge – on Twitter using his cellphone, inciting alarm and panic on much of his five hundred plus network of friends. It turns out the computer consultant, Nick Starr didn’t pull through with the suicide and was found the following day camped out in his car near the bridge. Needless to say, the ‘twitter’ he left – “Alright this is it. Parked my car. I wish everyone who ever was nice to me well.
See you in the next life.” however brief, affected the five hundred some network of friends whose lives and personal space were disrupted, and perhaps re-arranged because of a reality which only existed in the virtual world. When checked by police, Starr attributed his ‘twitters’ to loneliness, and not being geographically close to his friends. He underwent therapy and has now moved to San Fransisco to be with most of his friends in ‘real life.’ Much like the blurring boundaries of what is intended for private and public consumption, the lines of intimacy between the ‘real’ is being substituted for the virtual.
These aforementioned instances solidifies and affirms the reality which plagues our generation. Content, messages and meanings intended for private consumption are dragged into the open, undiscriminating public sphere, and people are not finding this prevalent privatization of public space disturbing, but instead, accepting it as another reality which needs to be dealt with at one point or another. Few people, the likes of the previously discussed ‘cellphone vigilante’ whose efforts in undermining the intrusion of privacy, and the need to keep private matters from seeping into the public sphere, are able to commit to opposing it by resorting to extreme measures. Of course, aside from cellphone frequency jamming being illegal, such can’t be regarded as ethically and absolutely correct.
What is unfortunate is that despite what has been said, the individuals who put their private lives up for public consumption, and the people who are on the receiving end of having their private spaces overstepped and intruded upon by the former, are both victims of the seeming evils of new technologies, and its utilization.
What needs to be addressed is not only how people make use of such technologies, taking care not to let the overwhelming digital and technological avenues and platforms of social interaction and communication overrun their private lives, or intrude upon that of others, but more importantly, to engage in healthy conversations in the ‘real world.’ In traditional and good old fashioned human to human conversation – whenever the opportunity presents itself – without the need for handhelds or digital and electronic devices. Such will result to less misunderstandings, healthier relationships, public and private spaces being left as they are; and humanity, ultimately affirmed and preserved.
“Cell Yell: Thanks for (Not) Sharing.” 22 November 2001. Taub, Eric A. The New York Times. 20 December 2007.
“Devices Enforce Silence of Cellphones, Illegally.” 4 November 2007. Richtel, Matt. The New York Times. 20 December 2007.
“The Global Sympathetic Audience.” 4 November 2007. Cohen, Noam. The New York Times. 20 December 2007.