New Tech = A New Definition of Privacy

pavan-trikutam-1660So I got a phonebook in the mail today, opened it up and discovered that it doesn’t contain people’s phone numbers anymore.

I totally get it, it’ll save a zillion trees (which is great), and to be honest I don’t think my daughter has ever used a phone book in her life, but for some reason it made me a little sad.

It contained contact info for schools, an area code map, gov and emergency numbers, information on how landline phones work and business numbers and ads, but no people.

It feels like the end of an era. Or a statement about the future of our society.

That being said, someone being able to access your phone number without your permission has become something that many people very seriously consider an invasion of privacy.

We’re willing to put our entire lives on Facebook and Instagram, but if someone gets our cell phone number and calls without asking personally if they can have it? Creepy.

You can do a white pages search online for anyone with a listed landline number in the country, but we don’t because it feels like an invasion of privacy. Uninvited phone calls have reached the the same emotional trigger as telemarketing or spam mail or email. If someone I haven’t seen since high school where to Google my number and call, I’d be really freaked out. Sending me a Facebook request is a totally normal, socially acceptable move though.

And people add loads of “friends” and followers who are often complete strangers on social media without batting an eye, giving them a street level view of their entire lives and the inner workings of their minds with a click.

I hate talking on the phone. With a deep seated passion. (PTSD from my early days as an emergency support rep getting calls at 4am.) It’s not just me though, a lot of people who grew up in chat rooms seem to prefer texting to talking. And kids who grew up on Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat and Video chat seem to consider talking on the phone a boring waste of time.

I understand it though. When you’re used to having a fully emmersive, multimedia experience while you communicate with people, moving to voice only seems silly.

Originally we spoke out loud and sang songs to pass down stories. Then we figured out some written language and started carving messages into stone and painting on walls. Eventually we had a postal service and telegrams and could write letters and messages and send them all over the world. Then people realized they could use the medium as a way to advertise, and spam mail began. It was annoying, but not considered a huge invasion of privacy—which is interesting becase for most people, the mail was being sent the the physical address of their actual home. The person sending actually knew where they lived.

When the phone hit, it seemed really oldschool to write a letter or send a telegraph. Then telemarketing exploded. Telemarketing seemed more an invasion of privacy, because a person was bringing their voice into your home. Anger toward telemarters started early on and has persisted.

When we moved into the world of email, spam email immediately followed suite. It was highly annoying, but again, not as offensive as unwanted phone calls. (Until people started riddling them with viruses.)

When cell phones hit the the scene, they were considered personal communication devices, to which unwanted calls were considered an huge invasion of privacy (seemingly more than any other communication medium to date), and that sentiment has stood the test of time. Cell phone numbers are considered private information, and breaching that privacy line REALLY upsets people. You take your cell phone with you everywhere you go, it’s kind of the point. Someone highjacking access to your cell phone number, giving them the opportunity to talk to you no matter where you go is just seen as offensive and inappropriate.

Social media and video chat picked up speed and brought us to where we are today, but even now, cell phone numbers are considered very private.

It’s kind of fascinating considering our comfort allowing strangers to see our social media profiles, and message us at any time through those applications. The difference is, we can delete communication apps. At this point cell phones go with us everywhere and cell phone numbers are a fairly permanent companion. It seems that they made us feel TOO accessible.

And now there is an uproar over internet providers being able to sell our browser history to 3rd party companies. (Which I find infuriating.) This is another area that people don’t have personal control over. They can’t delete internet access, because in many areas there is only one provider to choose from. Folks are willing to sign over their history to other companies that use it for ad targeting in order to use their services beause they have the choice to NOT use those services if they don’t want to. This ruling has taken away that choice, much like someone getting your cell phone number. Having access to you anywhere you are, and now having access to anything you do online is just a horrible invasion of privacy. (Which is why call blocking and VPN’s have gained so much traction.)

Pretty soon, we’ll probably just be holograms jumping out of each other’s -whatever future device we come up with next- to chat (personally I’m hoping for Captain Planet style rings, just tossing that out there).

Forms of communication have shifted and will continue to shift throughout history as have our definitions and social constructs around privacy.

So I suppose it’s ok that the phonebook doesn’t contain people’s phone numbers anymore. The important constant is that we, as people, need to feel connected through communication in one form or another. We’re naturally social creatures. People have different preferences for how they enjoy communicating most. You have to give and take a bit since those preferences vary widely across lifestyles and generations.

When it comes to communicating as a society, the medium doesn’t really matter as long as we keep the conversation going.

So what really I’m trying to say is… DON’T CALL ME.

Kidding! Actually I’m not kidding. Talking on the phone is the actual worst. Just shoot me a tweet and let’s chat.

(Until the Captain Planet hallogram rings hit, at which point… you know what to do.) 🌎

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