I always feel like somebody’s watching me

Now that we live in the generation of YouTube, Twitter, cell phone cameras and instant access to photos and video footage, have we lost an essential bit of privacy? I tend to think so.

I was pondering this during this past weekend at Gays of our Lives. And, no, not because anyone did anything scandalous. It stems from just seeing all those cameras snapping away while actors and fans were in such a casual setting. Sure, on the one hand, anything you do in public is, well, public. But, on the other hand, it’s not necessarily meant for the consumption of a zillion people on the Internet. There’s a difference between a roomful of people seeing something, and a planet full of people seeing something and saving it to their hard drives.

I mean, from the professional angle, we always have to have informed consent, make people sign a release acknowledging they’re okay with their footage being broadcast, etc. But your average person with a camcorder (do they even MAKE camcorders anymore?) or a Twitpic account feels no such responsibility. And I’m pretty sure that’s how sites like TMZ make their bones as well: just grabbing whatever they can on the fly and slapping it up online or on TV. Is recording someone or snapping a random photo like that ethical? I gotta say…no. But when did ethics ever matter when it comes to getting a scoop, right? 

And, okay, as a professional print journalist with a battered tape recorder, I clearly have a bit of a vested interest in the issue. When it takes over a week for what I report to hit the stands while everybody and their uncle Harold is putting up full video of a Q&A the very next day…it does make me a bit crabby. But, more than that, part of me is just old school, and I think so much readily accessible content is a little invasive. Whether it’s on a site like Overheard in New York or a message board or Twitter, everything you say can be preserved for posterity. Dude, that’s a little creepy.

I feel like everyone has to watch their backs now, and give anyone typing away on their iPhone or their Blackberry the hairy eyeball…which, these days, is pretty much every person you see. That brings up an ancillary issue: We’ve become a culture of people that has to be plugged in at all times. It’s like no one can be alone anymore; they always have to maintain that across-the-networks connection to somebody else. Constant texting, tweeting, and Facebooking; always going off to take a call…it’s like people aren’t whole without this battery-operated appendage. (Hey, it’s no longer science fiction, it’s reality.) I remember it started when I was in college, well over a decade ago. My freshman year, every student I passed on campus had a cigarette in their hand. By my senior year? They all had cell phones stuck to their ears. They were taking a five minute walk across the quad, and they couldn’t do it without talking to someone else.

I shouldn’t be surprised, given the meteoric rise of reality TV, but it seems like snapshots of daily life have become our society’s hottest commodity…and privacy its rarest.

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