March 28 2014 – Cracked Podcast Episode 4 “Loss of Privacy”

 Click here to listen: Cracked Podcast Episode 4 “Loss of Privacy”

                  In this episode of the Cracked podcast, Jack O’Brien and Jason Long discuss the loss of privacy. The majority of the podcast centers on Jason Long attempting to explain how bizarre he finds millennial complacence regarding the loss of privacy. What I found interesting about this episode is that neither O’Brien nor Long ever makes a case for why privacy is worth having. Throughout the episode they allude to a dystopian future and warn about the slippery slope that may lead us there. Aside from vague prophecies about what could happen, Long repeatedly expresses his difficulty articulating why privacy is important [1]. In this paper, I want to make the case for privacy that Long couldn’t and explain what privacy is and why it is worth having. I also want to critique Long’s idea that young people’s willingness to share their lives on social media will lead to a lack of cultural diversity and suggests that, to the contrary, it will likely to a crucial tool for making social diversity more visible and accepted.

The hosts spend a great deal of time trying to figure out why those born after the Cold War don’t value privacy. This is an interesting discussion in its own right but even a perfect explanation as to why millennials don’t value privacy would do little to inform the argument as to why they ought to. First I found it awkward that neither of the hosts ever defined privacy. In this paper, the term privacy denotes the freedom to seclude information about our selves from others. Why ought we be able to control personal information about ourselves? There is a heated debate among ethicists as to why privacy matters [2]. With some questioning whether a right to privacy even exists at all [3]. I think it is reasonable to assume that whatever the exact relationship between them is; privacy seems to be an important component of our autonomy. A right to privacy allows us to maintain our social relationships in a manner we see fit. Part of what is to be in an intimate relationship is allowing yourself vulnerable to someone and share aspects of your life with them that you do not have to share with others. In a world without privacy, all individuals regardless of our intimacy with them would have equal access to the information about our lives.

Long also appears to struggle explaining the difference between individuals having access to information about us on Facebook and the government being able to tap on our phones and read our emails. The most obvious difference is that the information we post on Facebook is submitted voluntarily; it was created with the purpose of being shared (more on that later). A second difference is that the government is a uniquely dangerous entity. It is the only institution that we entrust with the power to take away some individual’s rights. The government can take our property (via taxation), our safety (drafting us into the military), and our freedom (through arrest and imprisonment) [4]. There are good reasons why we ought to consider the government having this sort of information uniquely dangerous in a way that we ought not to worry about Microsoft and Facebook.

Finally the hosts of the podcast worry that increasingly millennials will value privacy less and less. What they don’t seem to notice is, with the exception of privacy from the government, privacy from each other is only as valuable as we desire it to be. A world where individuals are more willing to share information about who they are is not necessarily bad [5]. While it will raise new moral questions about how we ought to respond to this information, it isn’t at clear to me why this would necessarily be bad, so long as all the information is shared voluntarily.

Earlier in the podcast, Long epitomizes his own ignorance when he says that the reason new technology and great art does not come out of North Korea is because of the degree to which its own citizens must endure surveillance [6]. There is a sense, of course, in which Long is correct, the North Koreans are heavily monitored by their own government and even fellow North Koreans are encouraged to spy on one another. But Long is equivocating the word “surveillance” employing it equally denote being monitored by an external authority (the government) with sharing information about oneself (via social media, camera phones, and the dreaded Xbox). Long also either doesn’t know (or doesn’t care) that North Korea is basically a nuclear-armed cargo cult, supposedly ruled by a dead man [7]. operating with a time tested and failed economic system. That is the reason new technology and great art does not come out of North Korea, not because North Koreans are too readily able to view one-another’s online diaries or Facebook pages.

There is a charitable interpretation of Long’s claim that could be spelled out like this; “Look” he might say, “If everyone can see one another’s political affiliation, relationship status, sexual orientation, religious views, etc. It will encourage a sort of tyranny of popular opinion, where individuals will feel a great coercive pressure from the majority to conform to a certain lifestyle.” The pressure to conform long proceeded [8] (and will exist far apart) from social media. A world where we share our lives on the Internet is not necessarily a world more prone to conformity. In fact, as I believe we already see, it is a world where our preconceived notions about others are challenged and where the width and breadth of human diversity can be marveled at. The dystopian future that Long worries about may indeed come to fruition but it will never come about because people were too open and honest about who they really are.

 Relevance/ Importance:

This Entry deals a lot with generational relationships which is a matter of situational interactionist theory. The Podcast compares and contrasts the value of privacy to people born before and after the cold war and poses questions about a what it means for a generation of people who share their lives online with social media. This entry has a lot to do with climate of opinion and context and how people act because of the technologies and mediums they are brought up with. There is certainly an element of Auteur theory here because the creators of this media are not from the generation that holds the climate of opinion on the issue. In my opinion the podcast presents a somewhat outdated concern of Orwell’s “big brother” prophecy. I think the far more interesting question to look at isn’t the government but as postman warns it’s the people who we want to see our information. It seems that people of my generation all want to be famous. We all want people to know us so we put ourselves out there online. If you do a good job you may even be lucky enough to encounter mystification theory, as many YouTube’s and bloggers have been made famous not only online but occasionally on television and in advertisements. In this day and age if you have enough twitter followers, somebody, somewhere, drops a clothing label in your lap. Which bring me to another concern how our lack of privacy says something about our willingness for advertisers to know who we are. It seems we increasingly want ads to be targeted to our liking and there is more technology to do that now than ever. Moreover this body cast talks about the government, but what I think is more interesting is the potential for reverse cultural norms theory. What if instead of having the media tell us what’s normal the internet and its social media mediums allow us to tell media what’s normal. Perhaps climate of opinion can start to develop a more equal back and forth with entertainment. We already see a rise reality TV, is just because it’s cheap to produce? Perhaps people are beginning to demand a say in what our cultural norms are. The public doesn’t trust people like the Brady Bunch to figure out what’s normal; instead, they trust Teen Mom. There is even a fad of creating produced scripted shows that look and feel like reality shows. My generation has had a taste of attention and we can’t get enough, we want to be apart of the discussion that shapes our countries identity and morals.

Trilogy: Information, Persuasion, Entertainment.

 

[1] The Cracked Podcast, 4 the Loss of Privacy, (Mar. 31, 2014). Examples of Long admitting he cannot explain why privacy is important can be found in the episode at: 9:20, 19:15, 21:08, 36:42, and perhaps best at 45:51.

[2] Judith Decew, “Privacy”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2013/entries/privacy/&gt;.

[3] Ibid. See reductionist accounts of privacy.

[4] I don’t mean to sound to libertarian here. It’s important that the state have these coercive powers but nonetheless we should be honest about what they really are.

[5] Though Long clearly believes it is. See Cracked Podcast, 4 the Loss of Privacy, (36:00-36:30)

[6] Ibid. (28:09)

[7] North Korea is officially ruled by Kim Il Sun, who in North Korean folklore was carried away by swans to heaven.

[8] If only the non-conformists of the 1950’s could come to our modern era and explain to all the goths, rednecks, LGBTs, Christians, Atheists, vegans, feminists, and cat fanatics about the importance of being different and being yourself.

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