Librarians seem to be the only people in the country concerned about privacy. But they're fighting an uphill battle against the culture.
Oh, I know some librarians don't care about privacy. Those regressive librarians who attack me because I choose to keep my identity private certainly don't care about it. They probably want to make patron library records public as well, so they could find out who was reading books they disapprove of and then publicly attack them. They might claim they respect privacy, but the logic of their position, if we can call it logic, supports access to this sort of information.
And speaking of access to information, there is an irony that the ALA and many librarians want completely open and free access to absolutely every bit of information, except things like patron records. I'm surprised the FBI hasn't used the ALA's open access arguments against them. "I just want access to information," says J. Edgar Hoover. "Isn't that what libraries are all about?"
But the churlish regressive librarians and the somewhat paradoxical arguments from the ALA are beside the point. The truth is, no one cares about privacy. People are panting with the urge to escape from privacy. We have witnessed the death of privacy, and for the most part we have found it very entertaining.
Sure, there are the ominous implications such as public surveillance cameras and the like. But we don't care, unless we're planning to commit a crime. I don't mind surveillance cameras in public. If someone attacked me, I'd want their filthy face right there on camera so the police could go get 'em. I don't want the government sifting through me email or anything, but if they did they'd be mightily bored.
But usually people don't care at all. Think of all the people who write blogs to share their feelings. They don't write to change anything. They don't write to entertain. They don't write to share the beauty of their prose, which is probably a good thing. They just write to write, because they want the world to know they exist. There are certainly entertaining, enlightening, and informative personal blogs in the world, but most of them function as diary entries for the semi-literate. Perhaps I should just say they are diaretic.
Diary entries - the sort of things that used to be private. I remember when I was a girl I had one of those little diaries with a lock on it. The assumption was that you wanted to keep your thoughts private. Do they still sell those things? The market must be small these days. James Mason's character in The Shooting Party tells his granddaughter that she should develop the habit of writing her thoughts down in a journal to keep from boring other people with them. I suppose almost no one reads most of these sad cries for attention anyway, so the locks are unnecessary.
Or consider IM. People know when you're logged on and when you're not. People can contact you at any moment, whether you want them to or not. By signing up, you're signaling to a lot of people that your privacy doesn't mean much.
Or Twitter. Or Flikr. Or Youtube. Think how many people there are in the world desperate to share some part of themselves, whether they have anything worth sharing or not.
Or consider all those websites that track our usage history. Amazon is a good example. They might keep your records private, but not from you. Amazon is always recommending some stupid book to me because of a present I got my grandmother 6 years ago. Amazon remembers And people love it.
Or Library Thing. People are dying to tell other people what they read and what books they own.
Or for a more negative image, just consider the vulgar celebrity culture we increasingly inhabit, where Britney Spears flashes her nether region and Paris Hilton releases how-to fellatio videos - all for publicity. Britney doesn't want privacy. Look at my naked crotch! The sad diaretic bloggers don't want privacy. Look at my naked soul!
I bet patrons would love to trade their privacy for an OPAC that would remember every book they've ever checked out, or a knowledge base with every reference question they've ever asked.
People don't want privacy, at least if the social technology mavens are correct. They don't want to be private, they want to connect. They want to share themselves. They want people to know they exist. They want to be known. They want to be interesting. They want to find friends, or compatriots, or comrades. They want community and belonging. And who can blame them.
How can privacy ever compete with that?