Sample Chapters: Excerpts

Sample Chapters

Chapter 6: Escape from the Castle: Privacy in the Age of Peep (excerpt)

Anthropologists talk about “human universals”, behaviors that all people have always exhibited throughout all time. One of the classic universals is, as anthropologist Donald E. Brown writes in his book Human Universals, “sexual modesty…People do not normally copulate in public.” Breathless and her coterie of even more explicit amateur models, not to mention the steady release of any number of ‘accidentally’ leaked sex tapes, tell us that today more and more of us seem to be copulating just so we can be seen in public. So does that mean we’re freaks, human beings unlike any who have ever walked the earth? Not necessarily. Think of it more as a cry (or moan) to action. Innumerable couplings that collectively testify to our natural desire to reclaim another human universal – our need to be known as individuals, not statistics and demographics. We’re alone all the time. We’re alone on the bus, we’re alone walking down the street, we’re alone at the office or in the classroom or waiting in line at DisneyWorld. We’re tired of being alone which is why, increasingly, we are barely hesitating to do whatever we feel we need to do to push out of solitude.  In the extreme – though no longer all that extreme – people are deliberately eschewing privacy by posing nude and uploading their sex acts online as a way to announce the singular primal fact of their humanity. Of course there are many more gradients to this push against solitude. From Facebook to WebCams to blogs to Reality TV we are actively involved in trading our privacy for community, shared meaning, and even cash and celebrity. We’re willing to put ourselves out there, we’re desperate to put ourselves out there, because we’d rather people know we exist than sit alone in sprawling suburban bungalows lit by the blue glow of the monitor. This doesn’t mean that we never want to have the right or ability to do things on our own, to do things unobserved by others. What this means is that a lifestyle centered around escape, distance, and buffer zones denies us a community that inherently knows who we are, a community that functions to reaffirm the simple fact of the existence of its members. There’s ample evidence that privacy is low on our list of concerns. One survey of Facebook users concluded that 90 percent had never read the company’s privacy policy. 60 percent of the users said they weren’t concerned about privacy and 30 percent said they were somewhat concerned about their privacy. [daniel solove, reputation book] A more recent study explored the willingness of college students to violate their own privacy on the Internet. In a 2008 talk presented at the Security and Human Behavior Workshop in Boston, Carnegie Mellon behavioral economist George Loewenstein explained the results of a research study he conducted with two colleagues. The researchers surveyed college students via email, asking them to indicate if they’d engaged in misguided or even illegal activities. One group of students were told that they shouldn’t worry about their privacy, nothing they said would ever get out. Ironically, those students were less likely to admit to wrongdoing than the students who were given no assurances that their privacy would be respected, who, in fact, never heard a single word about privacy throughout the experiment. In the end, 25% of the students who were assured of confidentially admitted to copying someone else’s homework. More than 50% of students who were told nothing about their confidentially said, yeah, they’d copied someone else’s schoolwork. From this we can conclude that people do not naturally think of privacy, particularly when they are connecting online. They want to share, they want to be noticed, they want to mine their truth telling for the potential rewards of community. The more people feel like they are connecting with each other, as opposed to bureaucracies and institutions, the more frank they are willing to be. The same team did another experiment in which students were asked to take an on-screen survey enquiring about their performance of various “illicit” acts. One batch took the survey on an official university website, the other batch on a fun looking website with the headline “How BAD are U??”, looming over the image of a smiling devil. Students on the fun site were found to be way more likely to admit to engaging in illicit activities including the use of illegal drugs. So: we can conclude again that people care less about privacy and more about connection – if we think we’re exchanging life experiences, if we’re feeling like we’re tapping into our instinctual craving for meaningful social interaction and reaffirming our sense of (tribal) existence, we’re unlikely to worry about our privacy.  [July 2, 2008,  3:56 pm Our Paradoxical Attitudes Toward Privacy By Brad Stone nytimes] A Fall 2008 study by the The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that only 49 percent of the survey participants said they would be “very concerned” if online corporations who store data (like Google’s Gmail) shared their data with law enforcement without their permission. Only 63 percent of those surveyed indicated that they would be upset if the company continued to retain copies of files after the user had deleted them. In the United Kingdom, AOL surveyed a thousand online consumers about their understanding of privacy issues on the Internet. 84 percent said that they were very hesitant to give up any personal details online. But 89 percent then went on to divulge personal details about their household incomes – “without any pressure or persuasion,” says AOL. “Our research identified a significant gap between what people say and what they do when it comes to protecting sensitive information online,” AOL Chief Privacy Officer Jules Polonetsky said in a statement. From this you can conclude that, as AOL did, people are stupid and need education on how to protect their privacy. Or you can conclude, as I do, that we want to connect, desperately, existentially, inherently. We’re willing to reveal ourselves for little or no reason even against our own best interests if only that we might, for a moment or two, alleviate the loneliness we feel all around us.


The Book: The Peep Diaries

The Peep Diaries will be Published by City Lights Books in May 2009
ISBN 1991022

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The Publisher: City Lights

City Lights Books

City Lights Publishers

In June of 1955, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, co-founder of City Lights Bookstore, launched City Lights Publications with the Pocket Poets Series. The first volume was a collection of his own poems, Pictures of the Gone World, which has since become a classic of beat literature and… more...


Author! Author!

Hal Niedzviecki is a writer, culture commentator and editor whose work challenges preconceptions and confronts readers with the offenses of everyday life. He is the author of six books including the novel The Program and the nonfiction book The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves… more...