Social Skills

Why I Don’t Value My Privacy

It’s time for me to stand up and say my piece.

I don’t give a fuck about privacy.

I don’t mean your privacy. You won’t find me in a tree outside your window. I swear. Not that I haven’t tried.

No, I mean my privacy. I don’t care if my personal information is online. I’m pretty mystified by people who do.

A Few for the Vault

I want to make clear that I’m not telling you to give away sensitive financial information. I’d like to say, “use your common sense,” but that doesn’t work on this topic. A lot of people have no idea what information is already out there or what kinds of things thieves are after. Some people see hackers in every shadow. Maybe this is you, or someone you know. So let me clarify.

Here are the things you should not share online:

  • Your passwords
  • Credit card numbers
  • Account & routing numbers or other financial access info
  • Tax and income figures
  • Your social security number

Even these can be shared online if it makes sense. You can give your SSN to your credit union via their secure site, perhaps for an online loan application.

Your Information is Not Secret

Other than the above, pretty much everything about you is already available on the internet. This includes: your address, your phone number (even the unlisted cell), your birth certificate, your criminal record, the house you own and its estimated value, your maiden name, your spouse’s name, many of the charitable donations you’ve made (and the amount), and probably your email address.

I can get all of that stuff right now if I want.

There is nowhere you can go to remove that information from the web. There are places you can go who will say they’ll remove the info, but they are lying. They will, however, spam the email address you enter at their site.

Village Life in 20X6

The internet has irrevocably ended the age of privacy. But most people don’t realize that the age of privacy was a very short period.

Up until the early 20th century, “privacy” was unheard of. Sure, you might be able to wash in private, but personal information was completely public.

People lived in small houses with large extended families. Everyone in the community knew everyone else, including personal history. If you slept with someone, the whole village knew. If you made a fool of yourself? The village knew. Your occupation, approximate wealth, the location of your home, your accomplishments and your crimes were all pretty much public knowledge. Sure, they may never have heard of you 100 miles away but you weren’t going to travel that far anyway. To the people who mattered, keeping secrets was hard.

This changed in a few select countries in the mid-1900’s. In the U.S. it happened after World War II, when middle-class vets had enough money to begin moving into subdivisions of cookie-cutter houses. The economic boom, the widespread use of automobiles, and the availability of cheap-but-decent houses created the perfect conditions for something never before heard of.

The nuclear family was born.

Suddenly, houses had a small number of people in them—each with a private room. The houses were spaced farther out, and were often removed from civic centers.

People think of the 1950’s as a time when people were fake; they put on a front of American dream perfection, hiding their secret frustrations and struggles. We think of the 50’s that way because it was the first time in history that this was possible outside of the aristocracy.

The Consequences

In the 1990’s the internet did little to change privacy. It was actually a place of total anonymity, where kids and 20somethings used funny handles to mask their true identities.

But those kids have grown up, and we use the internet for commerce, networking, and socializing.

That doesn’t work if I don’t know who you are. Use your real fucking name.

It doesn’t work if I can’t find you. Join LinkedIn and make your Facebook public.

It doesn’t work if I can’t reach you. Put your email address on your Facebook. If you get spam, meh. Spam filter will deal with it.

This can’t be put back in the box. The 60 year period where people could buy anonymity has come to an end. Not having a Facebook page is about as friendly as turning off the lights and pretending you aren’t home when a friend knocks on the door—it’s your right to do it, but it prevents communication and rubs people the wrong way.

How I Deal

Photo credit: "The Geisha Who Refused to Look" by Okinawa Soba

Geisha girls understand how important your privacy is, but they charge by the hour.

All in all this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. A lot of people are scared about their personal info being available to strangers. I credit this partly to misinformation (hackers will get into my email! Facebook will sell my home address to Somali pirates!), but I also credit it to delusions of grandeur. We like to think people are beating down the door to get our personal information, but we’re not that important. Sure, marketers want your contact info, but they can buy it from the Red Cross or your college alumni association. Unless you’re a senator you don’t have any enemies plotting how to use your relationship history to ruin you. (And if you are a senator your enemies will hire a P.I., so keep it in your pants)

My approach to this brave new world is to embrace it. I friend everyone who friends me, and I’ve met cool people that way. I make it easy to find my contact info, and I therefore have a reputation for being accessible and helpful. I end up getting invited to more awesome events, I network more in my field, and I reach a lot of people with my ideas.

I’ve found that the benefit of making my personal info public by far outweighs the cost. As the cost of privacy rises—a cost measured both in time and effort, but also in social opportunities and career opportunities—this will become true for more and more people.

What has your experience been with privacy, and have you “gone public”? Has the benefit outweighed the cost? And if you still try to protect your privacy—how successful do you feel you are?

L Days cover_front only_half size

My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

Social Skills, Travel

Conversating with Strangers

A while back I talked about how major religious figures are travelers and homed in on four of the ways that the act of traveling changes the mind. I launched a personal project to work on these qualities in myself, starting with “social bravery” or talking easily with strangers. Last time I posted on the topic, I was only half done. Where am I now? Well…

Social Bravery II

The first part of my social bravery project was to strike up conversations with three new people. They can’t be introduced to me, they can’t have a pre-existing motive to befriend me, and they can’t be paid to wait on me. Anyone else is fair game.

Photo Credit: Happiness & Co. by Xavier Luque

That part went great, but just striking up a conversation and then parting ways was not fulfilling. It is a nice low-pressure way to get over hangups, and I recommend it to anyone who feels social anxiety, but for me this short “meet and greet” felt incomplete. So, I took it further.

My plan for Part II was to talk to three more strangers, but this time make plans for further contact with each one. It could be FBFing them (feel free, I’ll talk), emailing them, going to a party together…. anything, as long as the initial conversation finished with a mutual intention to continue relating.

This is more daunting than just talking to strangers. It takes more than courage – it means being interesting enough that someone will actually want more. Many people aren’t confident about this. I worried I’d seem creepy or they’d imagine an ulterior motive. What if it just came across as me hitting on them?

So I had to know how to make good conversation.

Three Snippets for Good Making-of-the-Words

I’ve learned to keep three snippets in my pocket: a “have you heard,” a “did you know,” and an “I think.”

  • A “have you heard…” story is typically about a current event. It’s a great opener because it invites discussion. It draws on presumably shared ground, bringing up something they possibly have heard. If so, shut up as soon as possible and let them talk about it. Otherwise, fill them in. Bad ones are too obvious (“Have you heard about hurricane Katrina?”). My most recent is “Have you heard that Pompeii is collapsing?”
  • A “did you know?” is better for further into the conversation. It lets you showcase your area of knowledge or put the focus on something that interests you. It’s something they likely don’t know. What you choose says a little about your personality, so it’s also more intimate. If done too early it’s just pushy. A recent: “Did you know people are teaching robots how to deceive?”
  • An “I think…” is pure opinion. You have to accept that others could disagree, and welcome and enjoy the discussion that follows, or you’re an ass. So keep that in mind when choosing your “I think.” If you firmly believe that soybean candles are the best candles and only a stupid idiot would use beeswax, then leave candle talk aside and choose something noncontroversial like politics. My recent favorite: “I think that books will be completely obsolete in twelve years.” (Duke it out in the comments, folks!)
Photo Credit: Punk Love by malloreigh

“Have you heard that denim jackets are back?” “Did you know I’m wearing blue tights?” “I think I have one in my mouth.” The three snippets always work.

The three snippets are better than stock questions like “What do you do?” or “Are you from around here?” Those are the questions you ask to pass time with someone you don’t really want to talk to. By sharing things of interest you show that you really do want to get to know them and hear their opinion. By having ideas to present, rather than just questions to ask, you show that the burden is not all on them. You bring something to the conversation.

Remember, if you’re reading this you’re already interesting. Not because Rogue Priest is some kind of magnet for interesting people (though I’d love that) but because you have thousands of days of life and many years of education behind you. Before you go into a social occasion, draw your three snippets from somewhere in your immense body of experience and keep them in your back pocket. Offer them to new acquaintances like cigarettes in a noir film.

The Results

So how did Part II go? As it turns out I got my three and then some. It worked – but precisely because it worked, I can’t list the results here. When a person becomes a friend it somehow feels odd to dissect them namelessly like Guy with Book at Vietnamese Restaurant. So I won’t, and I’ll leave you to do the experiment and meet your own amazing people. I’m also making a list of the amazing people who have inspired me to write this kind of blog so that I can provide links to their writing in the near future.

ALSO coming up: My next post, this Saturday, will redefine this blog. I’m getting back to my original purpose: launching my Great Adventure, living the heroic path, and changing the world. I’ve made huge strides forward in planning my lifestyle change and this blog will be the chronicle – so be ready!

L Days cover_front only_half size

My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.