I guess the question is, “Do we really need it?”

And maybe also, “What are we getting by trading it?”

The first one is the harder of the two, hands down. My kneejerk, come-to-mind-immediately answer is, “Of course we do, dummy. What, you want someone knowing all your business?” but on some actual consideration, the issue isn’t nearly as cut and dry.

For example, the counterargument: Who gives a crap if someone knows what websites I go to, where I buy my clothes, whether I drink one percent or skim milk, how I pay for it, how much money I make in a year, my age, race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, marital status, on and on? Why should I care if that info is collected, analyzed, sorted, or if my emails are electronically filtered for product keywords and then I’m fed intrusive ads for the things I mention to my friends and family? Are they going to publish it in People magazine that I like iced tea and stoner rock? And if they did, would it matter? What makes my private business so important that it needs to stay private?

I’ve been thinking a lot about privacy, of course, in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks in June, and the subsequent revelations about how deep NSA snooping really goes, but also in terms of things like Facebook and Google data-mining operations and just how much of ourselves we give up in order to participate in what has ceased to be “virtual reality” and become simply the world in which we exist. Where is the line? Does there need to be one?

What about what we get for it? That digital life? I spend more of the waking hours of my average workday in front of a computer than not. Everything I write is seen digitally, and in The Aquarian, the archive goes back almost a decade to the very first reviews I did as an intern for the paper. It’s all there, all available, all accessible and minable. Is it worth giving that up in order to have efficient email access through Gmail or in order to see pictures of my friends’ kids on Facebook, band posters and updates, who’s got a show booked, etc.?

Apparently it is.

Because that’s the thing that seems to get lost in the modern privacy debate: That none of these services are mandatory. You don’t need a Facebook page. You can find some other email client. No one, ever, has needed Twitter. Sorry. Talk about the Arab Spring and all that as much as you want, but Twitter is perhaps the least necessary thing the internet has ever come up with, and yes, I both have an account and know that the same internet that spawned Twitter spawned goatse.cx. Twitter is even less necessary than that.

Yet I’m on it every day, wasting time with the few bands and people I follow. I’m waiting for my Gmail notifier to let me know the next time someone sends me a press release I’m going to get in another account anyway. I’m checking out Facebook invites to shows in Austria. I guess I don’t care that much about privacy, or I wouldn’t do these things, right? I wouldn’t give that ground in the name of the instant gratification that the internet provides. And since I don’t consider Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, or even the traced online shopping I do through Amazon to really be a huge boon to my existence, I guess I care even less than I think I do. Or else I’m on the wrong end of the bargain. I don’t know.

It’s funny. We’re willing to put so much of ourselves out there in the name of being our own little celebrities, sharing these pieces of who we are with “the world,” however big that world may be, and we defend doing it under the guise of, “Well who the hell am I that anyone cares in the first place?” I hope whoever is making billions of dollars off of an entire generation in this way at least appreciates the irony.

JJ Koczan

jj@theaquarian.com

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