Once the world entered the Age of Electricity, the Age Of Privacy became quickly antiquated. With all the technological advances designed to bring the world and its people closer, it also signified an end to keeping life private and remote. With electricity came the telegraph, with the telegraph came the telephone, with the telephone came the microphone, and with the microphone came the ability to preserve via methods never encountered before in our civilization. Because of that, we were able to find out about people; find out their habits, what they thought, how they really felt about things; what made them tick.
Over the decades those methods of gathering and preserving have become much more sophisticated and much less obtrusive. So in 2018, practically every aspect of our lives is up for surveillance and dissection – whether it’s to find out if we are in the midst of committing a crime or what sort of soap we wash with. Can be benign – can be sinister. It’s all in the eye of the information gatherer.
1975; the year this episode of NPR’s program America’s Town Meeting was broadcast, we were still reeling under the affects of Watergate; with tales of bugging devices and information gathering, as a way of letting us know we weren’t as private a society as we once thought. Shades of George Orwell and pages from 1984 come to life – we are all Winston Smith in our way.
But in 2018, the concerns of 1975 seem naive by comparison – Data is no longer considered gathered, but rather harvested; the connotation being that data available on each one of us is of such vast quantity and is planted in so many different places, it is easier to take it all and sift through it later; what it winds up being used for is up to the harvester.
And that’s worrisome to most people, but it is inevitable in our society. We have become a civilization of loners, people who are isolated either by choice or by geography. It is our natural desire to tell people; those seas of faces, just who we are and why we exist and why we matter. No one, not any of us, care to be considered invisible – and because of that, we expose ourselves to a world which may see us as malleable and easily convinced – who run the risk of having choices handed us, rather than choosing them. Why we are so upset and angry over the latest revelations of election tampering by the Russians speaks to a bigger issue – one that has us forcibly distanced from each other by way of divisions set up by those who see division as a means of succeeding.
But in 1975 it was perhaps more speculation than actual process – we pointed to Watergate and thought; “if it happened to them it could happen to us” – not really imagining it would become what it has now.
But to get an idea of where we were philosophically and emotionally in 1975 – whether you were here at the time or not – this discussion over Privacy features two prominent figures at the time, both on Capitol Hill; Congresswoman Bela Abzug and Congressman Barry Goldwater Jr. of California. A more unlikely pairing of figures you are likely to find anywhere at any time – it is nonetheless instructive over just what is going on with us now, and that maybe we should have seen the writing on the wall at the time. But then, we are so distracted by new, dazzling and shiny objects that cautionary tales have no validity until it’s too late.
The question is – is it too late?
We won’t know for certain until we get there. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, have a listed to this discussion on the issue of Privacy, as originally broadcast on May 21, 1975 from National Public Radio.