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How Much Is Too Much? Privacy Versus Publicity in our Modern World

May 19, 2014

Our world is a world of tremendous connectedness and communication. We no longer have the need to search for lost tribes and unknown islands. With satellite technology, just go to Google maps. Zoom in.

A few facts you may or may not have known about your privacy:

• The FBI can access your webcam at any time without activating that little green light. They say they have done this only with terrorists or in the most serious criminal cases. Still, the thought of such a potential breach of privacy is unsettling.

• Thankfully, self-sufficient rednecks still rule. At my house, Dad covered all his webcams with black electrical tape. Unsophisticated, but effective.

• The FBI has software which can be installed remotely through spam-like techniques and which is capable of providing a detailed breakdown of a targeted computer and of covertly downloading that computer’s emails, documents, and photos.

• The National Security Agency tracks billions of locations daily through cell phone usage.

• A recent report says that the NSA has covertly intercepted Cisco boxes being shipped overseas to targeted organizations. NSA employees have covertly installed firmware onto these intercepted servers and networking gear before shipping them on to their intended location.

• In a letter dated May 15 and reported by the Washington Post, the CEO of Cisco asked President Obama to implement rules which would limit government surveillance techniques, which he felt had damaged customers’ trust in Cisco.

Government intrusion, while scary and unsettling, cannot beat the intrusions we citizens voluntarily make into our own privacy. A generation ago, it would have been considered dangerous and highly irregular for a teenage girl to pin up posters advertising her beauty and personal interests in public traffic areas. Now this is done regularly, through Facebook and other social media outlets, and we don’t think a thing about it.

To share oneself and one’s interests with the world is enticing and startlingly easy. We post pictures of ourselves, our families, our homes, our children. We voluntarily let the world know where we are, what we are doing, and what we intend to do at any given point in our lives.

For convenience’ sake, we shop online, we bank online, we file taxes online. Gone are the days of paper shredders and voluminous file drawers. Online information is convenient, easily locatable, and never destroyed. In our world, identity theft is common–but who would give up convenience for the old fashioned and more private world of ponderous paper and germy greenbacks?

I have personally had my credit information stolen twice, and I have no idea when, where, or how it happened. I never felt the sting of consequences, as the credit card company immediately kicked in and covered me, no questions asked. But I can envision future, less-pleasant scenarios in which consequences would be felt.

Our literature and our speech have changed to match the new openness. Old1930’s dog-eared, hard-backed novels with their flowery speeches, their gentle ladies and heroic men, and their morals mired in sentimentality, seem laughable to us of the modern age. Modern literature aims for straightforwardness and employs the shock factor freely–the badder, the better. In mod-speak, we discuss publicly every mental twist and bodily function known to man. TV advertisements say it all.
Is there anything in our world worthy of privacy? Anything that had better not be said?

And what of a writer like me? I am a private person, but when I start writing, I open up the wells of my heart and pour out words indiscriminately. In the world of today, indiscriminate words are not censored, but applauded. So what should my boundaries be? Or should authors have no boundaries but the merciful limiter of bad writing?

My privacy is precious to me. I wrote this once, on the nature of that internal quiet spot we carry inside ourselves and which no security camera can breach: “I carry my true home inside myself, and I can go to my home at any place, at any time. My home is where I write, where I think, and where I pray.”

Would it be possible to lose the sacredness of this true home of mine by sharing too much of it with others? I fear it might be, but I do not know.

I have no answers on this blog post, only questions.

What are your thoughts/experiences with our modern, peek-easy society? Do you predict or fear a tomorrow’s world controlled by government surveillance? Has your financial or home security been breached? And is public discussion of private topics a good thing, or is it only very, very poor taste?

Please comment below. This wondering writer would like to know how others feel and how they deal with privacy issues.



  1. I don’t have answers either, Luci. But I will comment here because I like you and this post is very pertinen. I shy away from speaking or writing graphically of physical things that I consider private (i.e. bodily functions), but maybe there are heart things that fit into that category that I’m not as sensitive about. I’ve heard that women have lost their mystery in today’s social media. There may be a healthy side to that, but I know it’s not all pretty either. I feel like I have little to hide and there are few things that I’m afraid to speak about, even with a stranger. And yet….why is there that wall that comes up when someone gets a little too nosy or too close? I think true wisdom doesn’t share everything it knows.

  2. Good questions. It behooves us to live transparent, holy lives in the first place. Secondly, I think this generation that barely remembers pre-internet days tends to forget how fragile is technology, after-all. Only God is all powerful, everywhere present, and all knowing even though technology would seem to be as well. It isn’t. All it takes is simple storm to give us some much needed perspective. Let’s remember to live real with or without technology. We ought to be able to live contented, productive lives without it. I am not even close to impressed with dumping all of our photos, written documents, and information into online archival systems for “safe-keeping”. Seems pretty short-sighted to me. At least have a hard copy in the file cabinet at home, too, for privacy reasons AND for safe-keeping.
    Here is part of a letter I wrote to my sisters and mom yesterday on this very subject: “And now Shilah, about FB. It really isn’t as important to any of us as you are worried that it is. To be honest, I’d love it if we would take the time to create newsy, doodled up snail mail letters complete with stickers and xx’s and oo’s sent and received through your mail service. We have all gotten too lazy and brief in our communications. Electronic communications haven’t improved us; they’ve ruined our ability to HAVE TIME to savor and say things nicely and carefully and beautifully with thoughtfulness. love you amg”

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