the problem of privacy

Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. Luke 12:2-3.

Facebook has backed down again, after trying once again to make our information more available to everyone without our knowing it, including, of course, marketers.

The new and improved approach, addressing a firestorm of criticism over moves that exposed more information to more people, provides a control panel so you can decide which information is shared with friends, friends of friends, and everyone.

But as Gordon Grovitz points out about privacy and social media, “The very reason we go to these sites is to trade privacy for other benefits.” We give up information so we can find long lost friends, share pictures, and discover what people are reading, doing or thinking about.

Although privacy has long been seen as the right to be left alone, didn’t we forfeit this when we signed up in the first place? Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has said “People have gotten very comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people.”

The same criticisms were offered when Facebook added its News Feed, so you could find out what your friends were doing without having to go look for it. Now its one of the more popular features, providing, as Twitter does, “ambient awareness.”

“It’s just social norms catching up with what technology is capable of,” says Zuckerberg.

So now privacy is more about the right to control the information available rather than the right to be left alone. This is not, as Peggy Noonan points out, a good thing.

She believes a nation founded by people essentially trying to get off the grid and get on with their lives can not be comfortable with this. It’s not just social media that concerns her, however. Think of all the video we see—we think the guy there without his shirt may be the terrorists, the newscaster says. But how much video are we on?

“We increasingly know things about each other (or think we do) that we should not know, have no right to know, and have a right, actually, not to know,” says Noonan.

She offers no solutions, but some insight:

An odd thing is that when privacy is done away with, people don’t become more authentic, they become less so. What replaces what used not to be said is something that must be said and is usually a lie.

When we lose our privacy, we lose some of our humanity; we lose things that are particular to us, that make us separate and distinctive as souls, as, actually, children of God. We also lose trust, not only in each other but in our institutions, which we come to fear.

She’s right about authenticity. People put more energy into managing how they appear than who they are. Online every body is an exhibitionist. Unfortunately they are offline too.

Personally I don’t think the solution is a new Internet Privacy Act. People just need to be more careful about what they say and who they say it to. You can’t really make a law against being stupid.

At least nine times in the gospels we are told that people came to Jesus, or Jesus spoke to people, privately. Discretion and discernment go a long way. The problem in the end may not be privacy at all.

Maybe we just say too much.

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About wally metts

Wally Metts is the daysman. He is director of graduate studies in communication at Spring Arbor University and is a pastor at Countryside Bible Church in Jonesville, MI. The father of four adult children, he and his wife Katie raise barn cats and Christmas trees in Michigan. His grandchildren call him Santa.

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