David Pogue is the gadget writer for The New York Times. His job is to try new technology, and I've been reading and relying on him for years. But in the last few days, he has been bitten in the a— by that same technology.
Pogue, who is getting divorced, got in a domestic spat with his wife and she recorded it, audio and video, on her iPhone. When the police arrived at the home, he had the old-fashioned evidence -- a bite on the arm from her—and she had the new stuff: live video of him.
Not to intrude on the intimate struggles of a couple in the middle of a divorce, but this incident does raise a question that is being raised all too often by the explosion of social networks and mobile technology: how much privacy can/should we maintain in the face of all the technology that geo-locates us, tracks our eating habits, and broadcasts to everyone that our relationships are "complicated."
Not too long ago, Pogue wrote a post about Apple tracking users, and here's what he wrote about the "privacy-paranoia" of many people:
I have nothing to hide. Who cares if anyone knows where I've been? You're welcome to that information; in fact, the map shown here is my actual map. Clearly, I spend a lot of time on the East Coast (because I live here). Oooooh!!
I realize, however, that a lot of people either (a) do have something to hide, or (b) just fundamentally object to anyone or anything knowing anything about their day-to-day habits. These people must live in excruciating anxiety—or would, if they ever stopped to realize that their credit-card companies know about everything they buy, their banks know the intimate details of their expenditures and debts, and their phone companies know everyone they call. (And, by the way, the phone companies know everywhere they go; all cell phones track your movements. The only difference here is that the information is stored on your computer instead of the cell phone company's.)
I share that attitude. I know I am probably being recorded by cameras almost everywhere I go, and I purposely set all my privacy settings to "everybody" when given the chance.
Nevertheless, the antics this week of Dominick Strauss-Kahn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the David Pogues give me pause. The generation that can loosely be called "adult" now grew up without a spotlight on us. We have a certain expectation of privacy, even when we say we understand the new conditions.
The "digital natives," many writers say, will not be like us. They will live publicly, with their college party photos proudly on Facebook and their youthful indiscretions out in the open.
Are you sure? Didn't a gay college student commit suicide recently because he had been videotaped in a sexual encounter? Haven't there been at least a dozen other high-profile MySpace and Facebook stalking incidents that have led to suicide or prosecution?
Evolution is slow. I'm not so sure we can evolve in one generation from people who are comfortable with a degree of privacy to people who willingly take their clothes off to wade in the real time stream.