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Thursday, Oct 24, 2019

I’m Sorry, But That’s Private

Haunted by spam smses? Not an hour goes by without my being exhorted to buy a flat; get a car loan; upgrade my water purification system; dine at the all-you-can eat buffet at a local restaurant; and most worrying of all, lose weight with a magic sauna belt. Seema Goswami writes...

entertainment Updated: Aug 27, 2011 19:16 IST
Seema Goswami
Seema Goswami
Hindustan Times

No, that’s not a phrase that goes down well in a world gone mad mad mad mad.

Like almost everyone else on the planet who is in possession of a mobile phone, I am haunted by spam smses. Not an hour goes by without my being exhorted to buy a flat; get a car loan; upgrade my water purification system; dine at the all-you-can eat buffet at a local restaurant; and most worrying of all, lose weight with a magic sauna belt (now, how could they possibly tell?).

This is irritating enough when I am in the country. But it drives me insane when I am abroad and end up having to pay several thousand rupees for the privilege of receiving offers I have expressed no interest in and will never ever take up. The same goes with email. I can understand being inundated by nonsensical mails on the email id given below this column, because honestly, what else do you expect if you offer yourself up like the proverbial sacrificial lamb for slaughter by spam? But, more mystifyingly, my private email id which is shared only with friends and family, is also routinely clogged with importune messages from people I don’t know and organisations that I have never heard of.

I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly annoying when my privacy is breached in this manner. Is it too much to expect that your phone number and email id be kept private by your service providers? Isn’t confidentiality part of the deal when you sign up with a phone company or an email service? Well, you would think so, wouldn’t you? But within days of signing up, your information mysteriously leaks out into the public domain – and from then on, it’s only a matter of time before you’re spammed into submission.

Clearly, having even a reasonable expectation of privacy as you go about your life is asking for too much in this hyper-connected world. There is nothing that a dogged telemarketer – or a determined stalker – cannot discover about you in the digital universe. Mobile numbers and email ids are small change in this world and finding out your address is mere child’s play. Your credit card details are no longer out of bounds. Information about your purchase decisions is bought and sold by large corporations. What you wear, where you holiday, what you eat, how you relax, what you read, your choice in music – it’s all out there, waiting to be discovered by various interested parties.

So, given that so much of our lives inadvertently end up being lived out in the public domain, is it even possible to lay claim to a private life any longer? Well, I am old-fashioned enough to hold out for privacy but it seems to be an endangered concept – an idea that is rapidly vanishing under the concerted assault of social media and aggressive marketing. But then, how could the concept of a life lived privately survive when all of us are complicit in invading our own privacy? I have become used to being laughed at – good-naturedly, but still – by friends because I don’t post my vacation photo albums on Facebook or Twitpic my latest culinary adventure on to my Twitter page.

Why, they ask, am I not willing to share my experiences with the world? Why this pathological insistence on keeping my private life private? What harm can a few pictures possibly do? Why am I so secretive? What is there to hide? Frankly, I can think of no better route to mind-numbing boredom that being forced to view pictures of other people’s holidays/weddings/children/pets, so I wouldn’t dream of inflicting my own personal albums on an already-suffering world. But more than that, I have a peculiar horror of sharing my private moments with people on a public forum; making my personal life public property, as it were, by posting it on the Internet. And yes, there a difference between ‘secret’ and ‘private’ – as anyone above the age of 18 should know.

But from what I see around me, I seem to be part of a minuscule minority. The overwhelming majority is made up of people who see nothing amiss in sharing every moment of their lives – be they ever so banal. It’s almost as if they don’t believe that any event has truly occurred until it has been shared with the world via the Internet – and someone has pressed the ‘like’ button or posted a comment. Take a look at your own Facebook page or Twitter feed and you’ll see what I mean. You will be inundated with stuff you never needed – or wanted – to know. Your old school-mate’s child has had a fall in the schoolyard (‘poor baby’); your cousin in America is ‘partying hard’ in Las Vegas (don’t forget to click on that ‘like’ button); your former colleague has landed a dream job (grrr...); well, you get the drift.

Why do people post such a great detail of personal information in the public domain? I guess it comes down to a combination of a number of factors: an honest desire to share; a propensity to show off; a certain degree of self-aggrandisement; sheer vanity; or just plain gormlessness. But it certainly seems as if people want validation for every moment of their lives – and they can only get that by sharing every detail of their routines online. In such a world, what price privacy? No, you can’t buy it for love or money. And, if you ask me, more’s the pity.

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First Published: Aug 27, 2011 13:38 IST

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