Friday, June 14, 2013

The Unique Comfort of Not Caring

For someone who regularly broadcasts her neuroses online, I'm a pretty discreet individual. Certain aspects of my personal life have not/will not be discussed by phone, email, Facebook or Twitter, and I'm certainly not going to talk about any of that stuff here. Part of my reserve stems from a deeply ingrained sense of propriety. I'm like big sister Elinor from Sense & Sensibility, really uptight about decorum. But it also comes from a sort of paranoia. You see, getting in trouble is my biggest fear and I've long found keeping quiet the best way to avoid it.

So it wasn't really for myself that I worried in the wake of last week's big news about NSA surveillance, or at least not at first. Nor was I that surprised to learn our government has direct access to just about everyone's phone activity, email and messaging. But once laid before me, the absolute scope of that truth left me astonished. I keep thinking what my friend J said a year ago about being active online in the mid-90s. "Back then I didn't get that the internet is forever." Only in light of this recent news do I begin to grasp the implications of that notion. I think of myself as a generally good person, but what could be said of me based on my digital footprint? For instance, it wouldn't be difficult to deduce some dumb financial decisions I made in the past. And that's just one bad-looking thing. How many steps are you and I from potential character assassination? There's just so much available information about us all.

Too much, right? I mean, who am I but another one of the faceless millions? Besides, I'm lucky because I'm white and somewhat middle class so nobody bugs me. I can just blend in. And I never get in trouble anyway so I'll probably be just fine. Such is my knee-jerk inner dialog when pondering the NSA scandal inevitably leads to silent panic. And yes, there's a very good chance I'll live my whole life without being persecuted on the basis of some misconstrued information from my vast, intricate digital portrait. But that isn't really the point. Clearly, this trove of information is just too damn ripe for misuse. Because I'm a quiet, middle class white person (and not, say, a muslim), I've had the luxury of waiting until now to connect those rather obvious dots. And that's just one small aspect of this enormous debacle, of which I have much to learn. Certainly, choosing to not think about it is a more attractive option. I regularly struggle with that inclination, about so many bad things...

So if you've been thinking this NSA story is no big deal, I'm gonna assume that you haven't given it much consideration. I sympathize with that strategy but still think the matter deserves your attention. On the other hand, if you've thoroughly considered the issue and still find yourself feeling blasé about it, I have to conclude you're a very comfortable person who isn't bothered by any injustice that doesn't impact you directly. And if that is the case, I think you have a really big problem.

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