Privacy is a question that I never quite seem to find a satisfying answer for. In the past, when I’ve asked myself why digital privacy is important, and why it’s worth struggling for, the answer I nestled on was that privacy is important because privacy is power.
But that’s about as far as I got. Privacy was about keeping a balance of power between those who would abuse it for their own gain, and those who live out their lives, unconsciously leaving valuable trails of information behind. The idea was that privacy isn’t necessarily about you, but about building a long-term better society. But I think that’s wrong.
Privacy is definitely about you.
It can affect your life in ways so dramatic that you could only justify your new life circumstances as the course of your own will. And thus, you’ll always think, I know exactly how I got here. I remember the decisions I made that lead to me living this life, and I remember those decisions as being, in fact, of my own volition.
This is, unremarkably, no more than a lie we’ve been trained—or have trained ourselves—to tell to make our life seem consequential. To make our life make sense. We craft narratives that are digestible to us. Every event must be resolved one way or another. And when we don’t have all the information, when we are too small to possibly fathom the complicated nature of our existence, we craft simple explanations that we can live with.
But make no mistake about it: the stories we craft to understand our existence don't represent the actual nature of our existence. They represent how we perceive those circumstances.
Our world and the way we understand it—the way we’re able to fall asleep every night—represent our perception of it given the information our brain has been given to work with. A slight twinge of this information can produce kaleidoscopic variations in how you view yourself, your relationships, and your society.
We understand the world in terms of signals, which we process to produce images or stories of the world. And the horrifying truth is: our brains have horrible firewalls.
Almost anything can get in. That’s the whole idea, isn’t it? Signals go in, and our brain filters and parses. The results dictate the decisions you make, the actions you will take, and the consequences that will ripple throughout your radius of physical influence. It would stand to reason that one ought to be real careful about the signals we allow our brain to process. But of course, you might say, there is discretion. We ought to be intelligent enough to filter out nefarious signals.
The reality is that our “discernation” seems to be a very simple algorithm. Much simpler than we imagined. And the largest factor seems to just be: impressionability. The more you see something. Not more complex than that.
Quite simply, without privacy, you are Susceptible to Control. Put this in headline case and make an acronym of it, because it’s the one thing you should remember when you’re participating in modern digital society. You are STC. When you allow others to learn about you, your interests, and your habits, you allow yourself to be susceptible to how they might use that information to change the way you view your world. This would in effect directly control the purchases you make and the political affiliations you subscribe to.
And let’s not even be minutely grandiose about this: this is every day. It happens on the small and it happens on the large. Information that is produced in direct effect to your habit trails can be effectively weaponized to target messaging at you in attempt to change, or control, your behavior.
Our lives are filled with decisions, both the conscious and the unconscious. Decisions are—and let's be very clear about this—NOT existing in a vacuum. I’m yelling at myself mostly. I keep trying to tell myself that surely my decisions are of my own accord. Surely my opinions were derived validly and safely. Surely there has been no one but myself in charge of my decisions at every step of the way.
this. is. a. story. we. tell. ourselves.
Which is fine. We need stories to understand our world. Stories, like language and math, are symbols that we can manipulate. We can apply operations on them, like chaining them to form a continuous sequence, or adding and subtracting them. Stories are the way we understand the world. But the stories we’ve been told…
Ah. That’s where one has to be careful. That’s where one needs to be extremely self-aware.
The way you view your place in this world, the way you carry on your relationships with others, and the way you participate in modern society—these are all based on the messages you’ve received and internalized throughout your entire life. And even after all these decades, I am continually shocked at how little information I have had to work with given any difficult decision.
Can you imagine how limited you must have been then during the younger, most impressionable years of your life?
You...can not be trusted.
Everything you are—that thing you call your personality—is invented in direct response to the messages you’ve been bombarded with throughout your entire life.
It's time to be better. To move forward from our lie that we are who we are because we’re unique. Because we’re different. Because the infinite cosmos aligned at our exact coordinates to produce a unique, never before seen shade of light.
You are who you are because of the information you’ve received.
Privacy, then, is about reducing your susceptibility to control. It’s about protecting yourself from the nuclear weapons that are targeted messages. Targeted signals of information explicitly meant to influence the way you view the world first, and your purchasing habits second. (They never quite go for the sell right away anymore, do they?) The strength of these messages will always, always try to evolve to be more intelligent than you. To outplay you. There are trillions of dollars on the line that dictate this. Messaging will always evolve to try to outsmart you. To breach your firewall, and get into your brain to change its wiring, all for the direct benefit of some remote group of people.
Privacy is your firewall. It’s a security update for the modern human being. Privacy prevents those who would abuse it from understanding you. Privacy says that you’d like to be excluded from the greedy and violent agendas of unknown parties. Privacy is protection so that you can live out a more meaningful and self-derived life. It's where the decisions you make try to be as objective and true as possible, with as little influence as possible from strange third-parties.
Privacy is truly about living a life of your own.