On the public commodification of privacy.
Stefany Anne Golberg
We have no more privacy. That’s what we’re told; certainly it’s something we feel. Of course it’s been thrilling, for those of us with the means and the Internet, to be more connected to each other and the world than we could have ever imagined. We can correspond at lightening speed. Vast, seemingly infinite quantities of information — more than we ever knew existed, more than we know how to process — is available for our consumption at any hour of the day or night. Easy access to information promises astonishing convenience and comfort. Radical connectivity has also given us information that was previously hidden. What was once unknowable has been revealed: the secrets of medicine, rare ancient documents, R.E.M. lyrics. And all this information is still less thrilling than what we can now know about other people. Once, we might have been allowed to know the town where a celebrity lived or what she liked to eat for breakfast. The mere fact of a philandering celebrity’s philandering was news. Now, we can hear their whispers and sighs, have seen all their folds and wrinkles. Celebrities are not simply exposed — they are exposing themselves. The film critic Roger Ebert, who has thyroid cancer, uses his celebrity to reveal the most intimate details of his physical deterioration, the withering of his face and voice. The writer Tony Judt did the same before his death; the writer Christopher Hitchens does so now. In the past, we may have been privileged to read musings on death and illness from these celebrities in their own eloquent words. Now we can also watch their gasps on YouTube, can get instantaneous updates about surgical procedures and infections via tweets and pings. And even this is less interesting than what we feel we must tell about ourselves.
An unlikely model for our times.