Volume 76, Number 18 | September 20 - 26, 2006

talking point

Blogs, vanishing privacy and the shimmering mirror

By Andrei Codrescu

I don’t claim to have invented the Internet but I did predict the rise of blogging in 1973, before there was even such a thing as personal computing. I wrote a poem called “The New Gazette” that said, among other things: “I want to be the publisher of a vicious illuminated newspaper./The paper will appear twice a day, four times at night./The readers will be mean, nervous and ready to kill for the cause./There will be plenty of causes, one for every hour, and in later issues, one for every minute./The causes will be biological and spiritual and they will incite war for molecular differences./Molecular terrorists in hiding will write letters to the editor./Two persons, a man and a woman, called Tolerance and Intolerance,/will be in charge of love and lights.”

I’ve quoted at length from this youthful work not only because it proves that I’m a prophet, but also because I used to write pretty great poetry. Looking back on early work is not advisable, just as it isn’t advisable to look back into the past when one was vital, strong, blustery and brilliant. The reverse of the brilliant is cluelessness. Truly, youth is wasted on the young, but only if one has the luxury of looking back. And that’s one luxury one shouldn’t indulge in, if one has the good fortune of getting older, because the past is a mirror that shimmers and draws the soul in. More people die every day from falling into the mirror of the past than fall from horses or get snuffed in car crashes.

When I wrote that poem I had no clue that in 2006 every person alive on earth would be able to broadcast their most intimate thoughts every day into a new public nervous system that connects every human now. Back in 1973 we still suffered from the trauma of totalitarian governments that looked into every thought of their subjects and used that knowledge to terrify and belittle them. Surveillance was a bad thing, privacy was sacred. In 2006 we still hold privacy to be a right and we pay lip service to it. Every business dealing in private info has to send out reams of useless pledges about their oh-so-scrupulous defense of your data. In reality, those pledges are just more trees killed to obey the letter of meaningless laws. Privacy means little in the age of personal computing. Anyone can find out in minutes all they need to know about you and everyone is ready to broadcast everything anyone might want to know. More, in fact, than anyone might want to know.

The desire to expose everything one feels or experiences and the need to translate all of it immediately into an urgent bulletin is an inexorable process, a progressive disease that leads to the foreshadowing of every difference. All inchoate thought or passing incident takes on a personality, a body for consumption. Bloggers produce molecular bodies filled with exacerbated sentiment, blown up like balloons with significance. This type of communication is not friendly, it’s a threat. Constant info is a form of rape. Of course, you don’t have to read anybody’s blog or submit to the increasingly epileptic flicker of television, but you are hooked, there is no escaping it. You, and by that “you” I mean everybody, are hooked the moment you step into the world of the 21st century. If you were born before the time when communication was compulsory, you might be tempted to look to a more innocent past. And then you’ll fall in it, blinded like a bird.

What luxury to be a weekly columnist instead of a minute-by-minute one.

www.codrescu.com

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