Tuesday, November 16, 2010


If I was a superhero, my superhuman powers would be taking standardized tests and valuing my privacy. Privacy is power. It’s a power so great that being engulfed with controversy is practically a prerequisite. I think of privacy as the power to control information about oneself. This, of course, is a little too idealistic…

The notion of privacy is extremely fluid – the varying levels of significance we ascribe to it, as well as how we apply it to specific actions and settings brings to mind the cross-discipline conflict of theory v. practice. There is, for good reason, much discussion on invasion of privacy, and being subject to unwanted scrutiny. But the opposite abounds as well – a general lack of concern for ones privacy seems to have skyrocketed along with the advancement and popularity of networking technologies. I started thinking about this when a classmate brought up the idea of Orwell’s 1984. I’m sure I started looking too deep into it, but I think a comparison of 1984 with Huxley’s Brave New World could shed light on how I feel about privacy, the values we place on it, and the overall threat that its up against.

In 1984, the horrifying condition that has come about is due to an externally imposed oppression. The fear lies with this external force (government) that imposes itself upon the people, banning books, invading privacy, etc. I agree that this is horrifying, and that in the theory of privacy this is the worst thing that can happen. But I tend to side with Huxley’s reasoning, which is itself a bit more horrifying in my opinion. Brave New World depicts a society that deprives itself of personal autonomy (the idea of an oppressor, a ‘big brother’ is superfluous). This society doesn’t value privacy, and in the end loves the technologies that undo their capacities to think. Thus, there is no need to ban a book – for there is no audience for one. There is no need for an invasion of privacy because we don’t value it. Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us…Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

I by no means want to minimize what so many librarians stand for (to which I also stand for, and look forward to as a librarian), but for me the real threat to privacy doesn’t come from external forces like the FBI or the PATRIOT Act – it comes from the masses not realizing the power they wield. The library’s stance on privacy will be extremely hard to realize as the definition of privacy itself is transformed (again).


  1. Tecumseh, your summation of 1984 vs. Brave New World encapsulates why I've always preferred Huxley's book (contrary to the prevailing opinion of readers of dystopian fiction). The term "Orwellian" gets thrown around a lot in critiques of government, the "newspeak" of politicians and so forth, but I think Huxley's vision is much more powerfully descriptive of our present condition.

    By the way, nice title for your blog post. I'm assuming you are playing off the present controversy surrounding the TSA? If so, you may find this to be humorous:

  2. Tecumseh, great and thoughtful post. I like your pushback that the notion of privacy depends so much on everyday actions by regular people to demand and negotiate theirs. I also like that David brought up the TSA pat-down issue - there is an example where people seem to have reached a limit in terms of tolerance, and have begun a process of pushback. it is interesting to note how many of these privacy issues are closely embedded with technology.

    Clever title, indeed.