Thursday, February 14, 2013
Sensible people fret that government is ever more frequently monitoring our phone calls, tracking our whereabouts, and storing our email exchanges. Though we’re not concerned enough to put up much resistance (after all, the Patriot Act was reauthorized by a Democratic Congress and Democratic President), I’d be surprised to learn that many people outside of law enforcement celebrate the trend. But the trend toward less anonymity, less solitude, less privacy (and therefore less freedom) is hardly surprising given the way we delight in voluntarily chaining ourselves to privacy-killing technologies.
I scarcely consider myself a loner, but I cherish privacy and the occasional moment of solitude, and this means I feel the need from time to time (virtually every day at some point) of being simply away from people. And that means being out of reach from people as well. It means being off the grid for just a few refreshing minutes. But in so doing I am behaving like a social renegade.
Alas, a new ethical obligation has emerged in our society—the responsibility to make oneself available at all times to all of humanity.
To not respond immediately to someone’s efforts to contact us, no matter how fatuous their requests, is to be a poor citizen, a bad colleague, or an uncaring friend.
I am no neo-luddite. I email plenty. I’m on Facebook for considerable chunks of the year. I have this blog, after all. I’m available at my office and at my home by a land line. I do have a cell phone, true, but I wonder whether I've violated the social contract if I turn my cell off for much of the day. When I’m in the car, I often have my cell on, but at times I turn it off—again, with a guilty conscience. I wish to listen to music or the sound of the road in peace without feeling like I’m letting down humanity. At these times I feel like cursing these technologies.
That is until I need to make that absolutely important call with a weighty inquiry. Like, “hey, are we meeting tomorrow at 8:00, or did we move it to 8:15?” And then when I am forced—shock shock, horror horror--to leave a voice mail I wonder in disbelief and indignation how this person had the gall to screen my call. "Hey! I think, "would it kill you to pick up the phone? What's wrong with you?"