On Privacy: Nothing is Banal if it’s Well Written

That the internet has caused privacy to disappear is not new, nor is the fact that nobody is forced to divulge that extinct thing called “personal information.” People write their status or tweet or four square for the same reason a dog licks his own ass, and often with about the same result. But I don’t think people would be so inclined to self-advertise if we weren’t so inundated, so primed, with advertising in general. I don’t mean to overstate things, but I think these two abominations perpetuate each other and work in tandem to debauch the minds of the young.

Two things are sparkling clear. One is the extent to which both self-advertising and corporate advertising is anything but an impartial practice where detached observers describe and portray reality as they truly perceive it. To remove lying from advertising is basically to remove advertising. There is a spectrum of phoniness, but you’ve never heard and you will never hear any commercial say, “our product is crap,” and yet almost everything is crap. The second thing is the extent to which both parties, the advertiser and the advertisee, knows the above is true, and yet everyone participates in this thing as if it isn’t so. I think people endure so much advertising that they feel entitled to advertise themselves. The result is a double pronged attack on my senses.

Pic via Adbusters
Pic via Adbusters

I went two years without cable TV, and it is now impossible for me to watch commercials without cringing. I’m not joking or exaggerating. They grate on my eyes and ears immediately, and I mute all of them and read. This is something I do for its practical benefits and on principle. Many people’s Facebook feed is the everyday equivalent of the TV commercial. The product sold is their life, the content their privacy, and it has the same affectation, founded on what I’ll generously call half-truths. All that’s missing from their feed is the production value of the commercial, which doesn’t make it better or worse, just cheaper and smaller scale. I block Facebook feeds like I mute commercials because their self-interested content will never win out over the purity of my beloved authors.

I’m not calling all my Facebook friends illiterate vulgarians (1000 friends alienated in one fell swoop!), but I only have one criterion for reading. Some people do quite well, as I have many friends who are very talented writers, professional and unprofessional alike. But the need to protect myself from all hacks is in proportion to the lack of good taste that compels them to write in the first place. I don’t expect people to write well if they don’t enjoy writing, much less do it professionally, but if they don’t at least try to write well I don’t see why they write at all, never mind why I’m expected to read them. That they don’t view writing as writing is perhaps a sign of their perversion, a symptom of the problem. Of course nobody specifically asks me or anyone to read their status, but it’s assumed in the act of writing that someone somewhere will read it. It’s amazing that I’m in the absurd position of having to justify why I’m not an asshole for blocking hundreds of streams because I prefer to read Nabokov. So long as he and countless others have novels I haven’t read, I can’t be blamed for prioritizing my reading.

So, that the government or some vaguely sinister third-party will use the information people freely give them to arrest them in the night or, even worse, sell them things, is an evil I care less about than the low aesthetic quality of their privacy’s divulgence. I wish corporate advertising, the very concept of it, was seen for being not just absurd or spiritually offensive on the face of it, but the definitive proof that humans are pack animals guided hopelessly by primal and often revolting subconscious drives. Self-advertising is its hollow but comparatively innocent counterpart. Only then perhaps might they both end, but they won’t. The Bible has been replaced by advertising—it is modern art and our guide to living (this concept is worth a future post). The Bible has this to be said for it over advertising—at least it wasn’t a conscious lie from the start. People have long been overexposed to advertising, but revenging themselves by self-advertising isn’t mandatory. All it does is cut off my nose to spite my face.

Still, privacy is dead. It’s over! Too much information is out there for good and there’s no going back. I just hope in the future when people tell friends about their meals, or robbers about their vacation plans, the communication is at least redeemed by style and good taste. If this is asking too much, if you presume that people must read what you thoughtlessly compose and inconsiderately hoist upon them, stop afflicting me and everyone else. You’re the asshole, not me.

About Jeff Halperin

Jeff Halperin was a city hall reporter at the Toronto Standard, but his writing has also appeared at Maclean's, the Grid and elsewhere. He also writes on literature, Leafs, music, chess and more. Jeff's website is [here] For other PP posts by Jeff click [here]