This is a relatively new idea of mine, and I haven’t sorted it all out, but I’m inclined to say that we are beginning to have a problem with privacy in this country. And I’m not talking about the privacy issues Edward Snowden brought up when he exposed the NSA’s egregious collecting of phone data of U.S. citizens. As a friend pointed out, there’s a difference between privacy from government, and privacy from your fellow citizens. I certainly don’t think that the government has a right to monitor the every day lives of its people, for the most part. But I do believe, to some extent, that we should monitor each other, in a community-friendly kind of way. Now, I like to pick my nose as much as the next person, and you’ll be glad to know I do that in private, and I’m also a strong introvert who needs time away from people, but I’m worried we’ve become too privacy obsessed.
As you may know, I used to live in Saudi Arabia – the most privacy-obsessed country (maybe) in the world. Not only are women required to be completely covered there (being kept “private” from non-family members eyes), the car windows are all shaded a very dark hue so no one can see in, restaurants have separate family seating which is private from other diners, and no one asks “How is your wife (name)?” but instead can only ask, “How is your house?” While the family remains very important in Saudi, I wouldn’t say there is much of “community”. No one interacts on the street, because there is no one on the street. You don’t walk anywhere in Saudi. The houses, even modest ones, are complete fortresses with high walls and gates. It’s an extremely private place. And bad things happen there, possibly because of it. It’s not enough that Saudi women are confined and treated badly by their families, but the domestic workforce (from third world countries like Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines) is treated worse. You don’t have to take my word for it – the United Nations writes about it every year in a report, and so too does Human Rights Watch.
Privacy is pathological in Saudi Arabia and because of that, people do destructive things behind all those closed doors. With no one policing their behavior, they can get away with horrendous things. And that happens a lot of places, including in the U.S. If we do not face the censure of our peers, I think we’re more likely to behave badly.
Take the case of the popular phone app Yik Yak. According to an article in the NY Times, this social media venue requires no user profile, so people can post anything they want without it being traced back to them. Not only that, but Yik Yak posts things according to geographic location, and in many cases, by college or university. Needless to say, it’s taken college students by storm and is also being used by younger people in high schools and middle schools. And because of the anonymity the app provides, people say some pretty horrible stuff. The article states: “Since the app was introduced a little more than a year ago, it has been used to issue threats of mass violence on more than a dozen college campuses, including the University of North Carolina, Michigan State University and Penn State. Racist, homophobic and misogynist “yaks” have generated controversy at many more, among them Clemson, Emory, Colgate and the University of Texas. At Kenyon College, a “yakker” proposed a gang rape at the school’s women’s center. ”
Like I said, that anonymity, that kind of privacy, can lead to bad behavior. The young founders of Yik Yak, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, have cooperated with authorities on bomb threats and such, but they steadfastly refuse to reveal the identities of anyone else. They said they created the app for a more “democratic social media network, one where users didn’t need a large number of followers or friends to have their posts read widely.” Buffington stated, “When we made this app, we really made it for the disenfranchised.” Since when have fraternity members become the “disenfranchised”?
“Share your thoughts with people around you while keeping your privacy,” is the motto on the Yik Yak home page. Since when does “democracy” mean being racist or anything else repellent? If you say something awful, there should be consequences. This kind of “privacy” is dangerous. Not to mention just plain uncivil.
All actions (and words) should have consequences – either good or bad. To “get away” with this kind of bad behavior leads to a destabilizing of a society, as in the case of Saudi Arabia. No culture should be founded on hate. This is very cliché of me to say, but we need more love, less hate. More community, and less hiding behind cyber walls. More of an opening of our hearts to people, and less of keeping to the beast within.