Here we are in the middle of Choose Privacy Week, and I hadn’t even noticed. The ever busy and vigilant ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom is also concerned about our privacy. According to the press release: "The campaign gives libraries the tools they need to educate and engage users, and gives citizens the resources to think critically and make more informed choices about their privacy."
Supposedly, "Privacy has long been the cornerstone of library services in America, a freedom that librarians defend every day." However, those librarians have been concerned with the privacy of patron records and stuff like that, not their patrons’ privacy in other areas. The OIF might be sticking its nose into areas that people would prefer to remain private. I know I don’t want some librarian sniffing around in my private areas.
Like many areas, this also seems to be one that librarians are much more concerned about than the general public. And some librarians aren’t even that concerned. Just think about all the ones who don’t like it that my identity is private. They’re probably going gaga over privacy week in their confused and hypocritical way.
The public doesn’t really care, though. Oh sure, they don’t want their social security or bank account numbers stolen, but only because bad people can do bad things to them. Otherwise, fewer people than ever really choose privacy. We live in a culture where privacy–along with shame and accountability–is dying a slow death.
We can find some very good examples of this in a couple of popular tools that many librarians love: Facebook and Twitter.
Facebook (and its less popular brethren out there) pretty much proves that most people don’t care about their privacy. People love to expose themselves to the world. The reasons why are less clear. Some losers just think they’re awesome and want everyone to know about it. Some people are just so desperate for any even semi-human connection in this world they’ll accept this poor, pale substitute for friendship.
And think of all the things people do on Facebook, all those stupid games and quizzes and gifts and pokes and fan pages. Your likes and dislikes and interests and favorite everything. And people love it. Some people want to share their entire lives with the whole world, and others–the ones worried about their privacy–are only willing to share it with huge numbers of people they barely know of and have never met.
There are of course people who use Facebook to keep up with real friends and family far away, but there are a lot more who just use it to expose themselves and their insufferably boring lives. Until Twitter came along, Facebook status updates were the best way to figure out just how pathetic and sad some people’s lives really were. How boring and desperate for attention must one be to think the world cares about what you’re eating, or whether you’re folding your laundry, or what TV show you’re watching.
On the other hand, it has at least made it possible for intelligent and successful people to see what losers their high school bullies have become.
And then we have Twitter, the absolutely best medium for people who have nothing to say but want the world to pay attention to them. While there’s no doubt great stuff being shared on Twitter, such as links to the latest AL post, 90% of it could be automatically generated with a program that just Tweeted "Look at me! LOOK AT ME!" every five minutes. If only it could jump up and down while shouting, lots of Twits would be in paradise.
That used to be what people with nothing to say used blogs for. Out in the world there are millions of abandoned Blogger and Livejournal pages with the barely coherent ramblings of desperate, lonely people who wanted to share their insipid mumblings with the world. Now those same people can do it more quickly and easily without even having to go to a computer.
Not only do people not care about privacy, a lot of librarians don’t really care about it either. The same ones who don’t respect my privacy think the entire job of librarians is to help people be less private. "Librarians need to show people how to use blogs and Twitter and Facebook andMySpace and Youtube and Flikr and every other tool designed to eliminate privacy!" Most of us ignore these librarians because they spout nonsense, but plenty believe them.
They’re also the least private among librarians, always "sharing" with us and shamelessly promoting themselves. Those librarians certainly don’t value privacy.
My advice to the Office of Intellectual Freedom, which I’m sure they’ll take very seriously, is to focus on intellectual freedom and leave people’s lack of privacy alone. If they wanted to be private, they’d be private. What they really want is to be very unprivate, but with no bad consequences. Short of identity theft, they don’t seem to care about any consequences. They just want some sort of recognition that the world never gives them.