Virtual Privacy: A Myth of the 21st Century

Commentator Andrei Codrescu says that privacy means little in the age of personal computing. Anyone can find out in minutes all they need to know about you, and everyone is ready to broadcast everything anyone might want to know.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In some ways, Commentator Andrei Codrescu is a member of the avant garde. Take a poem he wrote back in 1973, which looked ahead to the rise of blogs.

ANDREI CODRESCU: I wrote a poem called The New Gazette that said, among other things, I want to be the publisher of a vicious, illuminated newspaper. The paper will appear twice a day, four times a night. The readers will be mean, nervous and ready to kill for the cause. There will be plenty of causes, one for every hour and in later issues, one for every minute. The causes will be biological and spiritual, and they will incite war for molecular differences. Molecular terrorists in hiding will write letters to the editor. Two persons, a man and a woman called Tolerance and Intolerance, will be in charge of love and lights.

I've quoted at length from this youthful work not only because it proves that I'm a prophet, but also because I used to write pretty great poetry. Looking back on early work is not advisable though, just as it isn't advisable to look back into the past when one was vital, strong, blustery and brilliant. Truly, youth is wasted on the young, but only if one looks back. The past is a mirror that shimmers and draws the soul in. More people die everyday from falling into the mirror of the past than fall from horses or get snuffed in car crashes.

Anyway, when I wrote that poem, I had no clue that in 2006 every person alive on earth would be able to broadcast their most intimate thoughts everyday into a new public nervous system that collects every human now. Back in 1973 I still suffered from the trauma of childhood under a totalitarian government who looked into every thought of its subjects and used that knowledge to terrify and belittle us. Surveillance was a bad thing. Privacy was sacred.

In 2006, we still hold privacy to be a right and we pay lip service to it. In reality, privacy means little in the age of personal computing. Anyone can find out in minutes all they need to know about you and everyone is ready to broadcast everything anyone might want to know. The desire to expose everything one feels or experiences and the need to translate all of it immediately into an urgent bulletin is an inexorable process, a progressive disease that leads to the foreshadowing of every difference. Every half-baked thought or passing incidence takes on a personality, a body for consumption.

Bloggers produce molecular bodies blown up like balloons with significance. This type of communication is not friendly to threat, a form of rape maybe. Of course, you don't have to read anybody's blog or submit to the increasingly epileptic flicker of television, but you are hooked. There's no escaping it. If you were born before the time when communication was compulsory, you might be tempted to look to a more innocent past and then you'll fall in it, blinded like a bird.

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