This is the second of four articles in the June series “Mastering our Digital; Recovering the Real World.” which explore concerns about our technological age.
The world is getting smaller as technology expands at lightning speed bringing exciting innovation. It is indeed a brave new world. But as we gain access to vast and unfettered information we are becoming more vulnerable than ever before. Privacy and security worries are increasing. We seem to be living in glass houses, naked and vulnerable without our informed consent.
A Matter of Serenity and Safety
Evolving technology has been influencing, challenging, and compromising our ideas of privacy for a long time. I remember an encounter I had in a remote area of the Western North Carolina mountains where a friend of mine’s grandfather lived. He worked a small tobacco farm that had been in his family for generations. The cabin where he lived was built in the middle of the nineteenth century and only had electricity and running water for two decades. Charley was a widower and his grown children and grandchildren were worried about him living alone up there without a telephone.
One of the boys arranged for Bell Telephone to come up and install a unit, but Charley ran the worker off the front porch with a warning and a shotgun. Another friend and I were asked to try convincing Charley to let the man install a phone. When we presented how convenient it might be to just call his family to hear how they were doing rather than make the trip to their homes he replied that “It sure would be nice to do that but the other side of the coin is any one of them could pick up the dang phone and call me anytime they felt the hankerin’. It would ruin my serenity.” With that. the advance of technology was halted at his doorstep.
We’ve come a long way since Charley refused to have his serenity interrupted. With cell phones attached to our bodies, the melodious ringing follows us everywhere and interrupts anything. We even have to be reminded to disconnect during religious services. On one hand, we want to be available for conversations all of the time while on the other we cry out for privacy protection. It seems almost counterintuitive. We certainly don’t act like it is a priority. But of course, it is.
Our privacy is invaded every day.
Far-reaching surveillance measures and policies are designed to keep us safe from those who would do us harm. But we give up a lot with video cameras everywhere we wander. Drug testing is so commonplace that nobody seems offended when asked to provide a urine sample. DNA we provide to learn more about our health or genealogy are all too available to governmental agencies. Body imaging devices search us at airports and other public places. Metal detectors are at the entrances of most schools. Our privacy is invaded daily by external forces in the name of security.
Short of “going dark”, there are certainly ways to have a desired amount of privacy. And there are some simple ways to maintain the balance necessary for individual inviolability and freedom.
- Be Smart With Your Smartphone. These wonderful devices are tracking more than you probably know. By using a smartphone you are giving up most elements of the privacy you treasure. They collect information about you even with the pictures you take of family and friends. Stay aware of what your phone is tracking and doing. Check it out at this link: https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/phone-privacy/
- Protect Your Passwords. It is impossible to remember all of the passwords we set up. But overused ones are more easily accessed by strangers and predators. Get a password vault or manager to save and generate passwords that will save you lots of headaches and trouble. Here is a link to the best ones available in 2019. https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/best-password-managers/
- Pay in Cash. It should be obvious by now that folks who issue credit cards are selling your personal information. If you want for your buying patterns to be your own business, slow down the online purchasing. Get your money at the bank and spend it the way we used to…with dollars and cents (sense).
- Be Email, Message and Call Savvy. If you don’t know the sender of an electronic mail, don’t open it. Be especially careful about opening any attachments. This is how phishing works. All of your information is at risk when you aren’t careful. The same goes for responding to callers on phones (even landlines). If you don’t know who is calling, don’t answer. They will leave a message if it is important.
- Guard Your Social Security Number. It seems like everyone would like the last four numbers of your SSN. Be very cautious and wary unless it is your bank or the IRS. The fact is that predators of all kinds can figure out the rest of your number with the last four and your birthplace.
There are dozens of other ways to make yourself safer and to protect your privacy. Social media profiles should be very limited in terms of your personal information. Make sure devices have a password or thumbprint requirement for opening. Enable private browsing on your search engine. Set up a Google alert for your name by accessing this site google.com/alerts. Take some time to investigate the different measures you might want to take by checking out trusted sources.
Government and commercial entities are only partly to blame for compromising privacy in the digital age. The bulk of the responsibility rests with each of us. You really have the power to balance your own safety and privacy.