Each week in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
Remember the Heartbleed bug? The one that meant that pretty much all of your online accounts had probably already been compromised and you should change all your passwords, now, now, now? Yeah, I still haven’t changed a single password. And I doubt I’m in the minority there.
I’m still trying to decide why. Mostly laziness, I guess. Changing my passwords on a dozen websites seemed like more work than it was worth. Failing to do so also felt like a precocious rejection of the Western cultural tendency to confuse your identity with your possessions (or, y’know, something).
More than anything, though, I think I’ve come to accept that privacy simply no longer exists. All of my secrets will eventually be compromised anyway, so why fight it? This is the reality of living in a post-Internet world: every one of our secrets can be found out, and everything we ever say will come back to haunt us.
The Internet is a strange place. A mere decade or two ago, we could all hide behind a screen name that allowed us to say anything with impunity; now a stray tweet can permanently end a career. I guess it’s not surprising, then, that there have been so many attempts to synthesize the sort of anonymity the Internet once promised.
There’s Yik Yak, which allows anyone within a mile and a half of you to shout anything into the void anonymously (and has allegedly brought at least one middle school to its knees, as kids have used it to bandy anonymous insults and oh-no-you-di’n’ts at each other); there are temporary email addresses that evaporate as soon as you use them; and then there’s Snapchat, colloquially known as “that app the kiddos use to sext each other during history class.” Snapchat is basically just like texting, except messages automatically disappear after they’re read. You can use it to send someone a picture of your butt, and then, ten seconds later, there will be no remaining evidence that you ever even had a butt. Privacy restored!
Sort of. Maybe.
Except, never mind. Maybe you’ve heard about this, a settlement that Snapchat recently reached with the Federal Trade Commission after the latter alleged that “snaps” were nowhere near as evanescent as advertised. Not only is every recipient perfectly capable of using a “screen grab” to save a message indefinitely, but there are also dozens of third-party apps that can log into Snapchat and keep a permanent record of snaps. Your messages only dissolve into the ether if your recipient actually wants them to. Oh, and also this: Snapchat has been collecting mountains of data from you. But you knew that already. (How else are they supposed to make money?)
All in all, it’s really kind of strange (isn’t it?) that online secrecy is such a Holy Grail to us in the first place. The fact that so many of us want to keep our activities secret implies that there are behaviors that (1) we all judge each other for engaging in, and (2) we all engage in anyway. According to some studies, more than half of college students have engaged in sexting, despite it being a career-ender for numerous politicians with hilariously appropriate last names. We all want to condemn certain behaviors in others, and we all want to engage in those same behaviors with impunity. As C. S. Lewis observes in Mere Christianity,
First…human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly…they do not in fact behave in that way.
Lewis’s point there was that there clearly exists a moral code that we (1) universally believe in (with a few small variations), and (2) universally ignore (at least as it pertains to us personally)—which is undeniably a strange situation. Why would we believe in a moral code we exempt ourselves from, unless it exists objectively and outside of us?
If Lewis were still around, I imagine he’d look at Snapchat’s popularity and feel at least a bit vindicated. Even in an era when we can log into Facebook and see what sort of bowel movement our one weird friend with no social-sharing filter recently had, we’re still looking to do things in private. We still want to shame people for doing certain things, which we then turn around and do ourselves.
Snapchat may crash and burn following this settlement (they probably should have taken that Facebook buyout offer when they had the chance), but I imagine people will continue chasing that Internet privacy Holy Grail. We all want to be connected to each other 24/7 without having to deal with the scrutiny. Go fig.