The Meaning of Privacy

The Meaning of Privacy

When I was young, we never imagined a camera in every phone. We hadn’t even realized you’d be able to use portable CD players the same way you used a walkman cassette player and, in fact, cameras still required film. Oh boy, I’m dating myself! What a fantastic and novel concept, a portable database of music to play on demand, and tiny computers you could carry anywhere. In my youth, such things only existed in episodes of Star Trek.

I’m grateful for the connectivity of the modern world. I’ve lived in three different countries and now live on the opposite coast from where I started. Every time we have to pack up and leave, I’m keenly aware that, in my youth, it would have meant saying goodbye to old friends and facing the possibility we’d never speak again. I was never particularly good at keeping up with pen pals even if a part of me really wanted to. With Facebook, keeping in touch is as simple as a mouse click.

But every new technology has its dark side. For a long time, I thought the most insidious thing about camera phones was the invention of selfies (*shudder*). Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I don’t understand the craze. The photos are inevitably at odd angles and your arm hangs off the edge. Just ask someone to take a picture for you. You might have to take one for them in return… gosh darn those two extra minutes of effort. You could take how many selfies in that time?

A comedian joked recently that camera phones have destroyed the concept of photo albums. When you go over to someone’s house, they don’t flip through an album saying “This was my lunch”, “That was my dinner.” We took a picture of a dessert on our honey moon. Back then, it was weird. We’d gone to a Norwegian restaurant and they offered to make us a special, traditional dessert that wasn’t on their menu, something that would have been shared between a bride and a groom in their country. Okay, I’ll admit it, we also took a picture of the dessert that looked like a viking longboat. Do I need to explain that one? But sharing those pictures usually meant admitting that yes, we are weird.

Now it’s half my Facebook feed.

But I digress. The ramifications of food porn and selfies are relatively small. My children will grow up thinking it’s normal to snap a picture of your food before you eat it and will assign my lack of understanding to old age. No, the thing that really bothers me about camera phones is how everyone uses them to invite themselves into other people’s lives.

I’ve read too many articles about disabled people receiving threatening notes on their dash. And while I’m sure these issues predated camera phones, what really turns my blood to ice is when the note writer claims they’ve made a recording and will send the video to the police if they repeat the offence. Who does this?

I can understand how the ability to record in a bad situation can be valuable. I understand that a few seconds of video can often reveal truths that would otherwise remain hidden. But that doesn’t mean you can just whip it out and hit record whenever you want to, then use your recordings to blackmail people. Who in their right mind thinks that’s okay? Especially since, time and again, these threats are levelled at people who are legitimately disabled, whether or not the person snapping those videos can tell. The idea that some random person is pointing their camera phone at me because they decided they get to snap-judge my every action feels creepy and stalkerish to me.

I read another article about a mother who left her child in the car, playing on his ipad, for a few minutes while she ran into a store to buy him headphones. Later she found out someone had recorded her son sitting in the back of the car and sent it to police. I won’t delve into the debate on whether or not it’s okay to leave your kid in the car for five minutes when he’s playing a game and doesn’t want to go with you, and it’s not a hot day and the windows are cracked and you can see the car from the store window. What I will say is, who in their right mind records something like that? Wait around and confront the parent… I could maybe understand that. But stealth record without saying a word to the parent? When did that stop being creepy?

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people on Facebook post pictures snapped through car windows to make comments about what they find inside. When I was young, you didn’t look into other people’s cars, let alone take pictures of the contents. Frankly, what’s in another person’s car is none of my business. What they bought at the grocery store is equally outside my concern. It seems that, in the age of Facebook, where we plaster our pictures and phone numbers all over the Interwebs, people have forgotten the meaning of the word privacy.

Camera phones are great for capturing the candid moments. And by all means, share your interesting experiences. But don’t use that device to pry into the private life of others. I guarantee you wouldn’t be happy if they did it to you.

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