“Privacy is an artifact of inefficiency”

I say that just about every time I speak in public, and people always ask me to repeat it, and they inscribe it carefully into their notes.

It’s a simple enough idea: What you’ve thought of all your life as privacy has simply been a function of inefficient data processing tools. The more efficacious the means of acquiring and storing data become, the less privacy — unintentional ignorance by others of observable facts — you will have.

If you find this idea repellent — dang…

It is what it is, and it’s absurd to rebel against it. We are real, physical entities. Our purposive actions sometimes have secondary physical consequences that are potentially observable to other people — and to data acquisition devices. Your best hope of achieving privacy, going forward, is to expire. Short of that, you might try to exist in some sort of extra-physical way. And short of that, you might try doing everything you do where no one — and nothing — else can observe you. And short of all that, swallow hard and prepare to have every fact of your life known, at least potentially, by anyone or everyone else.

This does not bother me at all. I deliberately lead a hugely public life. I’m not showy, I hope, but I never want for someone to be able to say something truthful about me that I have not said first myself. I try to lead a very moral life, but no one is perfect. But what I don’t want, ever, is to give the impression that I am trying to hide my imperfections. (Disclosure: I caused a car accident earlier this evening. No one was hurt, but the front end of my car was smacked up pretty good.)

(People who send me email will have grown used to me replying with multiple names in the CC line. I’m never trying to hide facts about my life, but, I am normally trying very hard to not-hide those facts.)

Another thing I say in speeches is that the world is becoming more and more the realm I would have imagined for myself. Mostly the private details of human lives are banal and boring. But if keeping secrets gives other people power over me, then I choose to have no secrets of any sort. (Briefs. Force of habit.)

Anyway, all that’s by way of introducing an article on privacy and data processing from today’s New York Times. I think the article misses more targets than it manages to hit, but the discussion of the massively macro-scale heuristics made possible by the internet is worth pursuing.

“The guilty flee where none pursueth.” It has never occurred to me to try to keep secrets because I know that no purposive human action ever goes unwitnessed. The fact is that most purposive human behavior is completely introspective. No one else can see — but I cannot avoid being aware of my own behavior. To hide from others, I would first have to affect to have hidden myself from myself. This is not an efficient use of a human mind. I expect I’m at the right edge of the Bell Curve when it comes to contempt for privacy — and feel free to ask me why if you want to know — but it remains that just about everything evil in human behavior emerges from secrets and lies.

And, like it or don’t, secrets and lies are soon to be dusty artifacts of the past…

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