We (those of us who do a good portion of our living online) exist in a world where privacy has become a bit of a buzzword – a concept of which we have a recollection, but not a solid comparative reference. We’re expected to be on call almost all of the time because of our constant attachment to our smartphones and other connected devices. It seems that the only times we’re allowed not to respond to texts, emails, and calls is when we’re in the washroom or asleep, and even then, those activities must be named as the reasons for missed alerts.
Privacy is not just about being able to spend time alone, having a door of one’s own to shut, or the freedom to unplug. Privacy can also be about the segregation between decision makers and those who are affected by such decisions. I attended two panel talks in February that touched on this notion of policy-making needing to get back to being public, rather than the private activity it’s become of late.
On February 15th at Harbord House, in a talk titled ‘Flirting With Democracy’, Dave Meslin spoke to a room of urbanites about how democracy doesn’t (and can’t) exist while the decisions and their makers (authorities) are acting privately and without public consultation.
With playful imagery he illuminated how our lives are tailored to make us think of encounters with authorities as punishment rather than possibilities for engagement and conversation. He asked us to imagine what it would be like if those experiences were thought of as rewards instead. Imagine a childhood where a kid would come running home saying ‘Today I got to talk to the principal about my idea for a new playground!’ Essentially, he was asking us to imagine a reality (in municipal politics) where our relationship to democracy is integrated and participatory, rather than distant and symbolic. Referencing the theatrical term ‘the fourth wall,’ where there is an implied wall/distance between the players/actors and the audience, Meslin’s take home point was that we can go our whole life without being asked our opinion or idea. So, when public meetings and consultations happen, most people don’t have the confidence or practice to speak out and to give their ideas.
But some Torontonians are doing just that. On February 20th, in a candlelit Brigantine Room at Harbourfront Centre, a room full of people scrolling through their Twitter feeds waited for the start of Toronto Talks – The Future of Our City. We would hear from Ed Keenan, Ivor Tossell, and the four representatives they had chosen as examples of being the change you want to see in the world (city). Ivor, author of The Gift of Ford described he and Ed as self-proclaimed ‘Fordologists,’ but feels it’s time to move on from constantly focusing on the inevitable mistakes Rob makes. Rob Ford’s gift, then, is that he’s bequeathed to the city a breath of life; an energy and enthusiastic awareness about municipal politics. Most of the time this takes on a bit of a cynical, comic tone, but the newly awakened awareness and energy is bringing the private goings-on of city hall into the collective conscience of the public.
This month’s issue of Provocative Penguin explores a few other sides of privacy.
Seamus explains how, “when people get up in arms about changes to internet freedoms, it is because we are about to be told that we cannot do absolutely anything we want on the world wide web,” and suggests that perhaps we need to be less concerned about which websites are tracking us and how, because they’re feeding the source of the very vice/necessity we can’t live without: infinite knowledge.
DannyD, king of hyperbolic offensiveness, enlightens us about a tool that Japanese men use in order to keep their adultery a secret without using a password on their phones, which “may keep the secret safe, but also betrays the fact that you may have something to hide.”
Matt Collins, along with his famous No Good Bands (Metallica), also interviews the organizers of Laugh Sabbath’s future Film Festival, which should not be kept private. They will be screening flms that are “experimental and often made with low to no budget.” As always, Matt gets every last detail out of his subjects, so we find out things we didn’t even know we wanted to!
It’s no secret that Jeff Halperin is now writing for Toronto Standard, filling us in on some of those participatory municipal politics I was talking about above, but he still had something to say about privacy this month. Aside from his assertion that privacy is dead, he’s convinced that our current tendency to excessively divulge (boring and often poorly written) daily (previously private) happenings is directly related to the inundation of advertising that we’re exposed to on a constant basis.
Brooke Lynne, in a rant about her experiences of some particularly shocking over-shares, points out that the “line between ‘that is interesting’ and ‘I really wish you hadn’t told me that’ is thick enough that people don’t simply cross it accidentally.” But perhaps these aren’t accidents, “perhaps we are so connected with the virtual world…. we’re so conscientious about the fact that the things we put online can be preserved on the internet forever, that information transmitted through non-digital means seem benign in comparison.”