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We pay a high price for privacy but is it worth it, asks Gina Barreca.
I'm not a woman of mystery. I'm neither a dark horse nor a cool cat, and to call me an open book doesn't even go far enough. I'm an audible book.
It's possible that I overdo the whole "sharing" bit. At age 3, my niece suddenly pointed at me in the middle of dinner and declared, "You're a talking tomato". Other family members shrugged, nodded and kept eating.
But Ms Talking Tomato here finds herself worrying about privacy.
Given recent news about the way big government, big tech and big money are eavesdropping and taking notes on our daily routines, I'm not sure how to define appropriate privacy boundaries.
For example, I filled out every form TSA asked me to in exchange for a promise that I wouldn't ever again have to remove my shoes in airports.
I would've agreed to a chip implant had they promised me extra legroom.
Yet this evening, I spent fully 45 minutes trying to decide whether buying a baby monitor through an online gift registry would compromise my confidentiality.
The irony of buying an item to make sure the kid was bugged from birth onward wasn't lost on me.
Naturally, to handle my anxiety over issues of confidentially, I asked everybody I know what they thought.
I asked whether an increased sense of need to protect ourselves would lead to an increased sense of social withdrawal.
"Sadly, being a private person means limiting what you share with others," argued attorney Krysia Nelson.
"This means a deliberate effort to limit your interactions. I think it is hard to be both social and private."
Karol Matesi is another self-described "open book".
Despite throwing herself into conversations, confident
about interacting with lots
of different sorts of personalities, Karol only "merges with caution".
In part, we grow cautious because we feel we're not only being observed we're also being assessed.
Ellen Stimson lives in a rural area where the world offers "lots of privacy and just about zero anonymity". Although Ellen can sunbathe on her balcony and turn the music way up without bothering a living soul - apart from the fox family living in their meadow - her other activities appear on the local radar: "Dare I buy whiskey (for a cocktail party that evening) and donuts (for me right this second) during some early morning trip
to town, and the whole
village will know. Plenty of privacy in the country, but the anonymity I enjoyed in the city is a thing of the past."
Writer Barbara Cooley is clear about boundaries: "Privacy is my personal security system. For access to some areas, you merely need a name badge or ticket; for access to other areas, I'm going to have to have a thumbprint and a retina scan. Privacy is the wallet for my personal currency, and I'm a pretty frugal banker, although once I've determined your credit score is high enough, you can generally roam BarbaraLand at will."
Humorist and cartoonist Amy Hartl Sherman offers a different perspective, because while she's not averse to keeping some things private, Amy doesn't feel "comfortable around people who are so private that they are always wary. If they don't share or open up, I feel they are hiding things, and I lose trust. Their life, I understand, but my issue."
And when it comes to connecting privacy to vulnerability, I understand why author Yvonne Ransel defines privacy as "a right to keep my authentic opinions to myself rather than revealing them to those who would automatically spar with me. It's been painful lately."
That's not a surprise, is it? Commodities that rise in value come at greater costs. Privacy has become one of those commodities. I fear the cost will be paid in loneliness.
If we become preoccupied by catastrophic losses resulting from possible breaches in the systems protecting our national and individual information, our basic impulse will surely be to insulate, inoculate and quarantine whatever we identify as valuable.
How, then, will we create meaningful relationships if significant parts of our lives have "no trespassing" signs all over them? Are we willing to sacrifice responsiveness, spontaneity and engagement to protect ourselves? That's like putting up walls around an empty castle.
Perhaps isolation is too high a price to pay for privacy.
- Gina Barreca is an author and distinguished professor of English literature at the University of Connecticut.