Redefining Privacy in Shannon Matesky’s “MySpace”

In the past hundred years, the technological progress has moved so fast that some people do not have time to register changes in their everyday life. When such individuals hear from others a verbal account of what is going on around them, they slap their thighs and say, “Yes, that is right!” It is what happens at the performance of Shannon Matesky, a spoken word poet. In her performance “MySpace,” the author engagingly highlights that human beings do not notice that they have given away their privacy for their right to express themselves. Privacy used to mean “the quality or condition of being secluded from the presence or view of others” while now, people eliminate physical contact through the use of digital media believing that the concept of privacy is intact (“Privacy”). Meanwhile, with her poem, Matesky proves that humans are afraid of the real life; for this reason, they shut out from any physical contact nevertheless allowing other people to see their pictures and know a lot of their personal information. Even though the physical contact is still excluded from the concept of privacy, individuals willingly disclose a lot of personal data believing that it is the way for the self-expression and finding good friends and partners in life.

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American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language gives a formal definition of privacy, “The state of being free from public attention or unsanctioned intrusion” (“Privacy”). Human beings used to value their right to privacy. In particular, Western people are especially known for their appreciation of the private live with their property being fenced about and their room doors being locked. Anyone can go to the own room and stay there as long as it is needed without any unsanctioned intrusion. It means that no one can see an individual who shies from people’s attention, or talk to, or learn much from him or her. If a person is lavished with unwanted attention from others, it is called stalking and is a subject to legal action. Some people, so-called introverts, need more privacy; others, so-called extroverts, can do with less privacy. Nevertheless, anyone needs privacy for the own well-being. In line, time in private should be counterbalanced with social contacts; otherwise, well-being also suffers. However, new technologies have shifted the balance; today, even without the once-necessary physical contact, people can learn about each other a lot.

Now, an operational definition of privacy should be something similar to staying away from people while “we let public access get excess even if it’s at our privacy expense” (Matesky). Inasmuch as human lives have become online to some extent, it is more difficult to control all the amount of information about a single individual that becomes available. Whereas people still react vehemently to the breach of their physical space, they are often ambivalent or simply forgetful in terms of their virtual spaces. Everyone knows cases when someone’s photographs went viral because of a curious detail or caption. It causes hundreds of people to come and check the profile of that users; thus, they are intruding with their comments and stares into one’s personal life. In the past, when meeting, one person could know about the other only those facts that the interlocutor decided to reveal. Nowadays, the first thing people ask is email and social media nickname; these data allow them to find out as much information as there is online. That is the reason of why users are recurrently warned to be aware of what they upload online. Otherwise, they can lose their job or not be accepted for a new position simply because their social media profiles are too vulgar, explicit, or inappropriate for the job they are applying.

Another reason of why people are so careless about their privacy online is their desire to become known and appreciated even at the expense of their personal life. Matesky says about the privacy at the personal level, “We are obsessed with people getting to know us assuming that they will keep it at a distance” (Matesky). Indeed, the modern-day obsession with the self-expression takes on a new dimension, and people are ready to do a lot for the sake of a beautiful picture and additional likes. At the same time, people do not realize that they shorten the distance between themselves and other individuals who are mostly strangers. Thus, they are left to the tender mercy of somebody. In fact, it means that if the distance is not kept, people have “reasons to stalk, spy, and be nosy” (Matesky). Matesky points out to the inconsistency of the human indifference about own privacy by saying, “We don’t care as long as your profile allows pictures and comment posting” (Matesky). However, when anyone can reach whoever he or she wants via various means of digital communication, it can be called new-age stalking (Matesky). Thus, “technologies have made us too accessible lately,” reasons Matesky. Another level of privacy that people are giving away for the sake of free communication and self-expression is the political one. The author draws the listener’s attention to the fact that all online personal information can be used by the government. She says, “Cuz we say fuck the Patriot Act but we do their job for them cuz every time we fill out a profile or an about me box or a questionnaire we inform them” (Matesky). For the sake of the instant gratification, people mindlessly agree to risk their lives. It is not an immediate risk but in the long-term perspective, it can harm. Furthermore, Matesky also points out another illogical argument, “We except cell phones, monthly plans, overages, and activation fees and then have the audacity to be mad our speech ain’t free” (Matesky). In a similar vein, people may argue about an increase in the stalking or bullying. However, they do not think that they invite these negative things into their lives by themselves because they post a lot of personal information. It breaches their privacy and enables strangers to pester them.

Indeed, nowadays, there is an unprecedented level of exposure to public attention. In some media, for example, on Facebook, strangers cannot comment a post of someone they are not friends with and who has high privacy settings. Yet, they can see posts and photos through likes in the feed and their friends’ reposts. One may argue that all social media have an option of privacy settings and, if someone does not want the attention of strangers, he or she should simply close his or her FB page. However, here lies the problem with the digital media and the Internet, in general. Once anything is uploaded online, it stays there forever. Even having deleted the post, it is still printscreened or stashed somewhere. Therefore, such easy access to any kind of information enables people to “stalk, spy, and be nosy” (Matesky).

Along with the self-expression, excessive reliance on the virtual life serves a shield from the real life experience. No longer, the balance between the physical privacy and social contacts mentioned above is preserved. Matesky explains that people usually have so many virtual friends on the social media because they want to substitute the void of one in their lives. She is guilty of it herself by saying, “I have to admit it, I don’t know half the five hundred and twenty-four people on my friends list” (Matesky). Perceiving the face to face communication as being too traumatic, people began preferring virtual communication to the real life experience on a large scale “settl[ing] for connivance” (Matesky).

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Thus, Matesky’s spoken word performance has demonstrated how the definition of privacy has changed under the influence of the twenty-first century digital culture. Beginning with the definition of privacy as an absence of “public attention or unsanctioned intrusion,” Matesky skillfully showed that public attention is welcome for current bloggers and the Internet users, in general. Otherwise, there is no sense in their online vigilance. However, such shifts are always done at the expense of something. In the case of privacy, personal, social, and political levels suffer significantly. At the personal level, people feel too overwhelmed to communicate face to face and prefer to hide behind the monitor. At the political level of privacy, people willingly give away their freedoms by filling out questionnaires and other forms with personal information. Therefore, they should be ready for a sudden interest from the government. The growing complexity of the world has made people vulnerable, and they began to find a kind of drugs in the Internet and other online activities. By valuing virtual connections very high, people have agreed to sacrifice many crucial things such as physical contacts, face-to-face experience, some political freedoms and, eventually, their privacy. Even though some sort of privacy is still possible, no one is able to cling to one’s privacy as much as it used to. Nowadays, it is easy to google up any person and find any personal information. However, very little can be done to prevent an excessive access to one’s personal information unless one agrees to reject social media world and digital gadgets altogether. It is hardly possible for the majority.

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