At a party a few years ago, a young reporter bounded over to my cluster of social nodders and, with the breathless-ness of a born tweeter, chirped: “What’s the new hot thing?!”
Without disturbing my mascara, I replied: “Anonymity.”
She looked befuddled.
I continued: “To be Googled and to have nothing turn up. That’s hot.”
Too late, alas, even then.
In these post-Snowden days, the notion of anonymity is ludicrous. But so it has been for some time, though recent disclosures bring pause even to the habitually inured. It is one thing for Mrs. McQueen and Mrs. Harry G. Brown, my elderly dowager neighbors from childhood, to spy on each other through their porch screen doors. It is another for the National Security Agency to compile records of one’s phone calls.
While Americans bemoan their loss of privacy — and allow me to ululate right along with you — it is helpful to recall our own role in this gradual process of, shall we say, regurgitative knowingness.
That is, our apparent willingness to show-and-tell every little thing in the quest to be known. Fame and celebrity are by comparison higher callings than whatever compels strangers to display, say, their tongues (or other points of anatomical interest) in the public forum of social media.
Now, suddenly we’re offended that national security operatives are following our behavior patterns? Cue Cheetah’s laugh track.
Whether Edward Snowden, the self-admiring 29-year-old who decided to save us from ourselves if not our enemies, is hero or villain will keep us amused until time tells. Most likely he’s a hybrid of the two, the heroic concentrated mostly in his having spawned an urgent and overdue debate about the costs of privacy in the service of security.
Distracted by our gadgets, we hardly notice until a Snowden materializes. We love Google Earth because we can see our very own houses on our very own laptop screens. Wow. But who else is watching?