As I was waiting in line at the chemist yesterday, I bore witness to a pharmacy assistant and customer discussing the latter’s new medication at what had to be the upper limit of their respective volume ranges. Not only was I–and everyone within twenty feet–aware of the name of said medication, I also knew which doctor prescribed it, what it was used to treat, and how often she needed to take it. For the amount of attention she drew to herself, she may as well have been wearing a fluorescent coral blouse embroidered with details about her current medical ailments and their treatment plans.
This unabashed public distribution of private information has become all too common: the guy at the cafe discussing his erectile dysfunction; the woman screaming into her mobile phone on the bus, oblivious that her lack of an inside voice means everyone on the 375 is now painfully aware she’s got $2.67 to her name. Are we all so desensitised that we’ve lost all sense of what should remain private and what should be shared with the world at the top of our voices?
Why do we obsess about health professionals and financial institutions maintaining confidentiality when we, by crossing the line of reasonable disclosure, continually fail to ensure our privacy is protected at the most basic level?
Social networking has conditioned us to share absolutely everything about our lives; it’s as if we’ve adopted a policy of “if it’s happening, it’s worth announcing”. We’re so absorbed in our own self-importance that it doesn’t occur to us the people at the adjacent table have no interest in being subjected to a vivid description of our rash and the doctor’s prognosis. We don’t seem to care when there is a privacy breach because of our own lax stupidity, but if someone found out about our rash because of loose lips at the medical centre, we’d be livid. Isn’t that just the slightest bit hypocritical?
For the last week and a half, I’ve had a reasonably nasty infection. There were no Facebook status updates or tweets about it; I didn’t ring anyone to pass on the news after the doctor diagnosed my malady; and, until now, there haven’t been any blog pieces informing the world of my condition. Why? Because I wanted it to remain confidential, and I’m smart enough to know that as soon as you share information, you’ve immediately got about as much privacy as the guy walking up the street in the t-shirt that reads “I have Ebola virus”.
Once upon a time, before social networking (yes, there really was such a time), personal finances, abnormal growths on our body and stomach ailments were taboo subjects, not suitable for public discussion.
We can’t have our confidentiality cake and eat it, too. If we are prepared to reveal every facet of our lives, we can’t expect our privacy to be maintained. Anything published via social networking is in the public domain, and we should assume that every word uttered at volume in public has been heard by all in the general vicinity. If we can’t keep the lid of privacy on our own lives, why should we presume that anyone else can, or will?
Following my encounter at the chemist, I found myself pondering what the next stage in our social “evolution” will be. Where will our ever-increasing willingness to inadvertently breach our own privacy stop? Perhaps “I have Ebola virus” t-shirts aren’t too far off. What about polo shirts with statements of financial position emblazoned on them? “My bank account is overdrawn” belt buckles? Bright red hoodies that have your entire medical history printed on the back? While it may sound ludicrous, how far removed is it from what we are already doing?
We already bemoan our financial situation in public. We freely–and loudly–discuss medical afflictions, apparently without any concern about divulging intimate details to anyone within earshot. The only difference between full disclosure couture and what we’re currently doing is that the former will come with care instructions for machine washing.
Through an extension of social networking into our face-to-face lives, we’ve decided that publicly sharing the most personal facts about ourselves, whether done intentionally or not, is socially acceptable. If that’s the case, and no piece of information is any longer taboo, why shouldn’t we look stylish while making personal privacy a thing of the past?
I can’t wait to get my “I’m a poor writer and it’s only a rash” t-shirt.
When Lyndon Keane isn’t blogging at The Dissemination of Thought, you will find him at either a cafe, casino or bar. Or a magical place that has blackjack, vodka and triple-shot lattes under the one roof: his Utopia. He is currently completing an undergraduate degree in journalism, and believes that pancakes make study easier.