Like It or Not, You’re on Candid Camera
In an age of ever-present personal recording devices, our private lives are no longer our own
It used to be that you could run to the grocery store after you rolled out of bed and not expect thousands or millions of people to see you in your yoga pants and messy sheepdog hair. Or that you could chat with a friend at a bistro in Hinsdale or Naperville and not have your comments posted to YouTube. You had to be a celebrity or a politician for someone to care.
Not so much anymore. You step outside your front door to pick up the newspaper from your stoop and you could well be the unwitting subject of someone’s Twitter feed. Regardless of who we are, what we do, where we live or where we stand on the sliding scale of interesting, we are all fair game for public scrutiny. And it makes me feel a little bit creeped out.
I am not referring to the recent hacking and posting of clothing-optional photos of actresses. I am talking about your everyday, run-of-the-mill, G-rated, walking down the street in Elmhurst possibility of ending up online.
Be careful, or your accidental stumble at the mall or yelling at a parking meter could land you in a BuzzFeed or Up-worthy video so millions of people you’ll never meet will know exactly what you are up to — whether you sought the spotlight or not.
Even without the paranoia inspired by drones, our lives are no longer our own. We are permanently on display. Our everyday everythings are out there everywhere for everyone. Mass consumption of minutiae is in play every season of the year.
As a journalist for more than three decades, I have interviewed many people. At the start of each interview I dutifully announce that all comments are fair game and “on the record.” People understand I am writing down what they say, so no one is surprised when I write about them or shape the comments into a story, because I have the subject’s explicit consent.
But if I am singing and swaying in my car, I am not consenting to the person stuck next to me in traffic on I-88, recording my antics on his phone and tweeting to mock me. Never mind if you dance feverishly at weddings, you could land on the Facebook feeds of 200 people if you twirled too much to Gloria Gaynor. I know. Believe me, I know.
If you are like me, you can look around at any concert, park or party and see someone holding out a phone or a tablet to take it all in for posterity. Maybe you are just an accidental bystander in a landscape sweep. Maybe someone finds something you are wearing amusing and they focus in on you with an insulting comment attached as a caption. Now more than ever before, you have to be ready to be in someone’s close-up.
Granted, this is not completely new. Every school assembly, graduation, choral performance, science fair or poetry reading has been recorded on the video cameras of millions of proud parents for at least two generations. But as the process of taping or digital recording has become less bulky and more accessible, with better results on smaller devices, it seems everything is being recorded. You can’t go out to dinner without someone shooting the image of the plate before him at the next table.
In years past, the line between public and private used to be much higher, sturdier and less porous. It used to be that you could have a reasonable expectation that raking leaves on your front lawn while singing a Temptations song would not go viral and end up on “Good Morning America.” Not true anymore.
The late novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote, “All human beings have three lives: public, private and secret.” It’s not that I have so many secrets that I perennially hide from the world. After all, I’m a writer who chooses to write about her life. It’s just that I would like to be the one in control of my public life. And my private one.
There is a saying in journalism that you should not say, write, email or post anything you would not want to appear on the front page of a newspaper. What that means is that in this post-digital age, your actions are fair game for anyone’s viewing.
But I still believe we all have a right to a little bit of privacy. Even if that means I have to check around me to see who is recording. And the reason is very simple and extremely selfish. I really don’t want to dress up for the grocery store.Edit Module