3 A’s in place of privacy

I just completed the best O.J. Simpson imitation. You remember O.J.? No, not the knife-wielding, Bronco-passenger. O.J., the lovable scamp that did ads for Hertz. I sprinted from one terminal in Chicago to another. Only to find the doors to my flight closed. I conned my way onto the jetway and onto the plane. My seat, first class thanks to an upgrade, was waiting. I was pretty impressed with my sprinting abilities. Even better, they held the plane as it backed-up to put my bag on; I watch ’em do it. It was the least that United could do for me after leaving an hour late from Boston.

I am reading The Puzzle Palace by James Bamford. It is an utterly captivating documentation of the National Security Agency. For the longest time I assumed that there was no way that the government could put together something like ECHELON, the system used to monitor all forms of communication all the time. In the midst of this book, not only am I confronted with proof that ECHELON, or some form of it, exists, but also that, yes, the government is that fucked up and the only reason that things work is because 10 times more money than is really required is thrown at every problem.

So ECHELON exists. So Amazon abused information it gathered via Alexis. So every frequent buyer card you have discloses your every purchase. (A member of this list has an interesting defense to the Giant card. He went shopping with a female acquaintance you needed tampons. He suggested use his Giant card and thus screw up the nice orderly stream of data that Giant had pilfered from him to date. You know, a typical guy’s typical purchase: pasta, beer, water, ground beef, tampons… one of these things is not like the other.)

People are so calm about this complete an utter lack of privacy. This has bothered me for a while. But, I think, I have unraveled the problem. The reason why, outside of a few squawkers and FTC lawyers (you know who you are), have been bitching about loss of privacy is because people actual don’t want their privacy. They have traded privacy for the three A’s: acceptance, approval, and acknowledgment.

It used to be that people flocked to organized religion. Why? Acceptance, approval, and acknowledgment. They wanted to be accepted into something bigger than themselves. They wanted approval to raise a brood of kids, beat up on people different than them, and sell flowers at the airport. They wanted to be acknowledge for doing this good deed or that act of charity.

Now, for the three A’s to really be meaningful they had to come from some large authoritarian source. I simply couldn’t turn to a friend and grant them the three A’s; I don’t have that kind of perceived authority.

But organized religion does. You are now valued parishioner.

The government does. You are now a valued citizen.

Corporations do. You are now a valued customer.

Why do you struggle so hard to get Premier status on United? Do you really get better service? Not really. I posit that you do that to get the three A’s from United. You are accepted into this “little” club. You receive approval and acknowledgment from them in the form of a little plastic card.

Why do you join a country club?

How does one live knowing full well that there is no such thing are personal privacy? Dunno exactly. I do know that if my privacy is going to be stolen / gifted away, I am going to get every perk I can from it. I think that this lack of personal privacy really shows how transient the outside world is. What I claim is mine is mostly an illusion of possession. I don’t own the work I do at work. I don’t own the right to personal privacy; I pay for it. And maybe that’s it. Maybe in the not to distant future, we will pay for privacy. We will pay for the right not to get reams of spam. We will pay for the right to skip through commercials on TV. We will pay for the ability to block banner ads. Maybe we can pay enough to watch all those extra copies of your credit report go up in smoke? I recently read a privacy note from Aetna; they do not purge themselves of your records if you charge your healthcare carrier. How much are you those records worth to you?

And you know the real pisser about this model of privacy? The “interesting” people are the ones paying for privacy. Corporation are far more interested in the business traveler than the occasional family that flies home to Duluth for a reunion. Amazon is more interested in the CEO who buys ten books every month that the person who occasionally buys a book from Oprah’s booklist. (Face it Tai Chi for Dummies isn’t that interesting.)

So what’s the Big Decision here? Start saving, consider faking your own death, and don’t act surprised when your various mailboxes (both electronic and real) are full of shit you just don’t care about.