When I first moved to Toronto, David Samis (yes, the David Samis) invited me to a presentation evening called Trampoline Hall.  Actually, this was before the Internet became huge-huge, and although it was long before YouTube, it was like what you might today call a live, local “TED Talk” on a stage.  The presenter that …
" /> Jason Holborn | Cybercarnet/Weblog - The End Of Privacy, or, I For One Welcome Our New Google Overlords!

The End Of Privacy, or, I For One Welcome Our New Google Overlords!

When I first moved to Toronto, David Samis (yes, the David Samis) invited me to a presentation evening called Trampoline Hall.  Actually, this was before the Internet became huge-huge, and although it was long before YouTube, it was like what you might today call a live, local “TED Talk” on a stage.  The presenter that evening was a man whom I believe was named Duane; he got a lot of flak and a little bit of support for his idea.

I think that Duane had a revolutionary idea; I’d never heard anything like it before.  It changed how I saw the world; it still does, today.

I would say that many people were taken aback.  And I’d say as many believed the idea to be so totally dangerous, even if practically impossible to ever pose any realistic threat, that Duane was a moron or a fool.

I would say that fewer people supported the idea, or, supported discussing and debating the merits and pitfalls of the idea.

My spider-sense on that day may have been biased by my own personal (and favourable) intrigue at the idea, however I do believe a majority thought the notion was totally lunatic.  I sat on the sidelines, too deep in thought to involve myself in the debate.  I believe I clapped for his answers to his critics, and for comments in tentative support for his idea.  There may have been no clapping, like a Protestant Church.  I don’t remember; I was totally, utterly fascinated by his idea.

Duane suggested, probably before “webcam” was accepted into the (paper) dictionary, before social networking was common, before September 11th, before anyone wondered about privacy concerns on-line, that our world would be better if every square centimetre was available to be viewed on camera, and that if anyone — anybody at all — could look at a screen and view anywhere – any place at all — in our world.  The Serengeti.  Sydney.  Your mom and dad’s bedroom.  Your bathroom.  Wherever the President was.  The pope’s bathroom.  The corner of Kawaramachi and Marutamachi.  Your office.  Your bedroom.  Anyone can see anywhere, anytime they want.

Reader, I don’t recall any of the specific arguments against the idea; my thoughts were spinning.  I think that the main consensus and argument against, however, was this: people need their privacy.

But do we…?

I would paraphrase or summarize or character Duane’s goal as suggesting to us that privacy was a burdening and false comfort for society, and that while it would be painful, or even traumatic, to give up privacy, we would grow tremendously from the change, and adapt into better, stronger humans evolved and equipped to handle the truth.  I now think that privacy is harming us, in different ways, and worse, in compounding ways.  Duane did not say that what doesn’t kill us makes us superior to what we were before, but I do think I’m giving an accurate recounting of the spirit of his idea.

We expend a lot of time and much energy and concentration to make a lot of decisions and choices acting on false assumptions about ourselves and our fellow humans, false assumptions based on privacy.  We’re not frank or honest about our lives and our needs and our functions and our wishes.

We don’t want to be spied on, but “spying” is secret.  We don’t want to be watched, but what if we ALL were watching?  In other words, what if humanity, collectively, were God?

The Abrahamic idea of a God watching us at all times, and reading our thoughts and hearts, is a powerful idea.  It’s not that different from the surveillance cameras in our midst we now debate.  If you believe that God is watching you, you (ideally) don’t steal or kill or beat or taunt.  If the police are watching, you (ideally) don’t steal or kill or beat.  I don’t want the police and the politicians to have that kind of Abrahamic-God-like power over us; however, I like Duane’s idea of ALL HUMANS assuming that God-like power over ourselves, communally.  I agree with him that privacy leads to unwelcome consequences.

A lot of us gossip.  I try not to, too!  Yet, god help me, I continue to catch myself.  We gossip when we’re SURE we’re in total, assured privacy.  We are mortified if we are not.  Why do we gossip?  I really think, in part because of Duane’s idea, that we gossip when and because we don’t find a healthy, clean, good way of bringing up (or otherwise coping with) our issues with other people in their presence.

The big problem with gossip, I think, is not that we gossip, not that we talk behind other’s backs, and not even that we don’t honestly, healthily, maturely deal with personal issues face-to-face; the problem is that so, so many of us TOTALLY DO NOT HAVE ANY HUMAN CLUE how to healthily, maturely, honestly cope with those issues.  Most of us are poorly equipped that way.  We should face up to that.

Of course, gossip is a steam vent, it lets off pressure.  We do many things, in private, to reduce pressure, to add happiness to our days, and get ourselves through life.  Secretly, I know that one person I know is a closet smoker.  No one knows s/he smokes, except me.  S/He keeps a secret ashtray and lighter and pack under the sink.  I used to consume mass quantities of sugary treats to happy myself up, or feel I was enjoying life, or treating myself for bearing through some totally unbearable stress/excuse to treat myself.  At one point, at my worst sugar eating, I even bought bags of white and brown sugar from different groceries, so that the clerks wouldn’t realize I ate so much (as if they didn’t have lives and would even care!).  I ate it in secret; people could see me eating a cookie or a cake slice, but no one ever saw me mash up sugar and butter and then lick the bowl clean.  I did something I shouldn’t have in secret, in private, because no one could see me.  Just like my acquaintance with the secret cigarette habit.  Just like closet alcoholics.  Or closet wrist cutters.  I know two people who have recently suggested that they are addicted to pornography, which they watch (as far as I know) in private.

Eradicating privacy would erase our abilities to do things in assured, total privacy.

I said that eradicating privacy would be painful, or even traumatic, and this is a great example.  If you can’t masturbate or even have sex or have a cigarette or a cookie to get you through your day, people will go crazy.


Which is why I think that eradicating privacy would radically, forever, for all time into the future, change the way that we invest money in mental health care.  We have invested considerably less in mental health BECAUSE we keep so many crazy, human behaviours contained in private, so that we can all pretend everything is better than it is, and that we don’t have collective mental health concerns that we could be taking care of.

We need better mental health services; everyone, everybody, every human being needs better mental health care.

Human beings have anger issues.  We condemn them, and often, we angrily condemn them — ah, no one sees the irony!  Anger is publicly looked down on that it frequently simmers until a private place is reached, when anger has sadly had the chance to Hulk Out under the repress-pressure.  People do things they regret.  Often, we nurse a private grudge after a blow to our private ego.

We don’t invest in mental health care enough.

We struggle with the truth, and I am one of those who invest in white lies, white lies which I believe are harmless and protective of another.  Is ignorance really harmless?  I wish we lived in a more Truthful world, and I recognize that a more Truthful world would be a more painful world for you and I.  However, growing up with the Truth is considerably easier than wrestling with it later.  Here’s a painful confession on my behalf: I live in daily torment over my wonky crooked genitals.  I am painfully shy about approaching anyone I find attractive, I am dreadful of dating, I am sorrowfully ashamed to even think about having to remove my trousers in front of another human being.  Reader, aren’t I crazy?  Really, honestly, isn’t that crazy?  And yet, although I realize it’s crazy, and obsessive, it’s still the way I am.  Aren’t I the way I am because of privacy?  Multiple doctors and readings and internet consultations assure me, repeatedly, that I’m actually “normal”, but despite those “assurances”, the hurtful comments I have heard and overheard and witnessed from all kinds of different people stick in my mind stronger.  Those people make those comments based in ignorance about nature and DNA and human structures.  Have you ever overheard a guy comment to other guys that his girlfriend’s breasts are different sizes?  Have you ever heard a girl comment to other girls that her boyfriend’s testes are different sizes?  Have you ever heard a girl confess her worry over the different sizes in her breasts?  You may already know that all – ALL – breasts and testes are different sizes.  How few of us know this in time; how many of us stress over ourselves.  I think more openness would change our attitudes, our individual lives, and our collective destiny together.

Recently I attended a Fun and Tegan & Sara concert, and there was quite a large outhouse yard, a square lined with hundreds of green porta-potties.  I watched a girl moan with exasperation, slamming the door on a stall.  Peering into the next, she slams it with another groan of frustration.  Then, she does it again, and, then, another time, at now, within the span of me watching, a fourth stall.  I thought, “Whoa, I wonder what’s wrong with those!!!”  People are animals, you know.  Some people get a kick out of vandalizing and pranks and making jokes on strangers.

Actually, there was nothing wrong with the stall.

It was just used.  She wanted a fresh one.

Who doesn’t?!

But come on, really.

So many of us have so many issues of shame and disgust about going to the bathroom.  Who doesn’t?!  But come on, really.  People really can make it into a way too big a deal.  I ask you: What would Rosie the Riveter or Florence Nightingale or Amelia Earhart say about a girl who can’t even use an outhouse?

I get that a person may not want to be observed going to the bathroom.  Me either!  Still, I say that A), we’d be better off acknowledging that we are all biological animals and not cartoon characters, and B) no one wants to watch a dog go to the bathroom, either.  They usually avert their eyes.  No one wants to see you go use the toilet.  People already freak out about “too much information” on social networking sites; you may get peeked on once or twice in your life, but that’s already a given certainty in life as it is already, now.  Children can grow up comfortable with the truth about going to the bathroom and accept it as a routine, necessary part of life, instead of looking on a normal healthy physical function with mortification and remorse and regret.  I know this because our ancestors already accomplished this before we civilized it out of ourselves, to a point where we can’t go to the toilet at Fun concert in Downsview Park.

We all hear that 3 out of 4 girls or 2 out of 5 boys or whatever ratio you next hear are sexually abused; look around, and wonder who they are.  What can be done about this?  Our war on child sexual abuse is failing more and more and more children; each year, we fail to stop abuse.  Next year, and for the next decade, and then longer, we will continue, over and over and over, to spend millions and millions and millions and millions and millions on cops and detectives and surveillance units and lawyers and judges and juries and wardens and prison guards and cafeterias and maintenance and hygiene and health and well-being exercises on catching child predators after the damage has already been done.  What is the point???  Which children are we actually, ultimately protecting???

And, what do we do for those children who need help and special guidance?  Do we invest in them the way we do in molesters?  If we’re giving this much of our energy and time and commitment and money and attention to the perpetrators instead of the children, couldn’t we better spend this money?

I refuse to believe or entertain the notion that sexual abusive tendencies and/or pedophilia are untreatable conditions, and I am tired of hearing that someone’s sister is a nurse and says there’s “just no cure”.  Of course there’s a cure!  There’s a cure for CANCER; we just don’t know what it is yet.  There’s a cure for everything, and the best cure is prevention, a milligram of which is worth a kilogram of cure.

We need to confront that pedophiles do things we’re uncomfortable with, and they can’t stop themselves, and that we are not (yet) stopping them.  Eradicating privacy would force us to stare this bogeyman on our planet in the eyes and wrestle it into a stranglehold.  Pedophilia and sexual abuse happens in private.

Even people who are not pedophiles often live with unusual or uncommon sexual desires and needs.  I believe that people are, generally and overall, sexually repressed.  The sooner society realizes that all humans are sexual beings, the happier everyone can be.  We successfully hide that people are sexual beings because we restrict sex to private moments and places.

Some people are privately racist.  I try not to judge a person for racist thoughts; I would think the same thoughts if I were that person.  Still, racism is a problem, in all of us, and letting go of privacy would, however painfully at first, move us towards acknowledging that all humans are a little bit racist.  If we can recognize that, and confront it, then we’ll be better off and on our way to recovery.  The power to be racist in private is unhealthy for the individual and his or her world.  Racism needs to be worked with and worked out, not shut away into private.

We all know how frustrated and outraged we are with leaders and politicians making secret deals and private decisions that we know nothing about.  The truth is, you and I and everyone we know would act as corruptly and selfishly and wrongly in those politicians’ shoes; we do it privately all the time.  We all are only human, and do things we wouldn’t do if we were being watched.  We should embrace the Truth, and privacy is not True.

Duane convinced me that night; we should get rid of our metaphorical one-bedroom condos and live in a metaphorical communal longhouse.  I think we should get rid of privacy and deal, as only human beings can, with science and investment and for want of a better future, with our crazy, illogical problems.  As painful as eradicating privacy would be, we would see that we are monkeys, who love our indulgent habits and vices, that we are biological creatures, and that that’s okay, that we are driven to evil and to compassion, and to self-risk and self-sacrifice, and to greed and cruelty and giving and sharing.  We would see that we need help, and we would see that we are more than capable of helping ourselves.  We need more love, more satisfaction, more community, more connection, more humanity.

And yet, Reader, I confess: I fear Google Glass.


I should champion it; I think that it will be a major break in the privacy ceiling.

More specifically, I fear Google Glass’s initial introduction into our world; I actually fear that people will be murdered over it.

I could be wrong, I could be over-reacting, I could be overly anxious.  I know people who think that my fear over Google Glass is crazy.

But I believe that people will be caught doing and saying regrettable, human things on Google Glass, and that desperation and death will in some cases follow.

I realize that privacy battles happened over home camcorders and the common cellphone and the iPhone, and that no major memorable devastation resulted.

But I still think that Google Glass will be different.

But WHY???

After some pondering, I’ve decided that my impression of Duane’s hypothetical idea was that everyone idealistically decides to voluntarily give up privacy, and, in this hypothetical realm, we create this global planetary camera hook-up system and hold our breaths for our plunge into the ice waters of truth.  Regarding Google Glass, only some, few people will have hidden, secret camcorders and microphones in their stylish spectacles or sunglasses, and this is where I think we could get into major, occasionally deadly conflicts.  I think Google Glass becomes Duane’s idea wherein only a few have the power, not everybody.  One day, Google Glass will reach a tipping point where, like the fax or the cellphone or the computer, most people have one, and then pretty much everyone has one.  I think there’s a probable privacy squeeze on those who don’t have the technology and those who do.  Some are surveillance maestros, some are not.  All animals are equal, but some cyber-animals will be more equal.  People with Google Glass can be spies, and can, with their superior knowledge of being (self) recorded, manipulate others into embarrassing, painful statements and actions.  Easy, secret surveillance fosters anger and hurt and resentment and in some cases, revenge.

I accept that Google Glass is a necessary step; it is what it is.  It is how privacy is going to next evolve on our world.

While working on this LR103104 documentary, the subject, Lawrence Rutherford, mentioned (off-camera) that he envisioned having a personal set-up wherein his Google Glass would allow a permanently available, constant access to others, a system that would allow anyone in the world to click in and see what Lawrence was seeing/doing/saying, at anytime they wanted to.  This is very, very similar to Duane’s idea, with the consent idea flipped around.  We all love to watch people like LR103104/Lawrence, who have so little shame and are open to being watched.  Perhaps people like him will bring about Duane’s idea.

I wish I knew Duane’s last name; I hope I’m doing him justice in claiming his first was Duane.  His was probably the most influential TED Talk-like talk I’ve seen, even today.

I’m not afraid of Google Glass; I just wish everyone was getting it all at once is all.  I feel strongly that the end of privacy, of which Google Glass is just one of many actors, will be difficult for many people.  I hope it will go alright for us.  And I, for one, welcome our new Google Glass overlords.