Have you noticed that people do not seem to be much bothered by the loss of privacy in our modern era? Yes, there are petitions, there are scathing editorials, there are twenty-page discussions on Google+, however, the tone is one that lacks real conviction, especially as so many complain, then go home to gawk at Real Housewives of _________ (fill-in-the-blank with your favorite city), and are devotees of reality TV shows, shows that are the altar, if you will, of adoration of an utter lack of privacy.
Why is this happening?
My guess is that it is probably because what privacy's purpose has always been about are two activities that are surprisingly close in experience, but appear to be on the opposite end of the spectrum when observed from the outside; and most adults no longer have them as goals because our culture does not talk about them in a way that makes sense as adult pursuits. What privacy used to be for are, on the one hand, ecstasy; and on the other, the development of depth of character. I will explain the connection between the two in a minute, but for now, for some reason, our culture has been slowly falling away from caring about privacy––one writer calls this a shallowing out of culture (Carr, 2011)––but I do not think that is what is happening. Please allow me to explain, addressing the topic of character first, and hope that my readers will stick around for the ecstasy.
Let me ask you, what would be most dramatic, most peculiar, and most puzzling to someone who had been asleep for the past thirty years and suddenly woke up today? I think it would be that no one ever appears to be alone.
For over twenty years, people have been walking around the city streets talking on their cell phones, listening to music on their iPods, ignoring where they really are to the point that ER Rooms have created a phrase for the fractures and stitches that not noticing a real world concrete wall that is right in front of you can cause: “Cell Phonatonia.” Like catatonia, but you’re moving around as if awake in the real world, but actually, literally, out-of-touch. The main point to make here is that not only are people constantly in contact with others––at least appear to be by phone and texting––but they are not in contact with themselves! They are, in a very real way, out of their bodies, blind, and––depending on what definition one uses for what is a mind––they are also out of their minds.
I have heard conversations on trains, on buses, and planes that would have been the KIND of conversations that would have, not so very long ago, required some serious privacy. Why is it that so few seem to really care?
The lack of privacy is actually something very old. Most people through history could not expect privacy anywhere in their lives unless they were very wealthy and sometimes, not even then. (The wealthy had servants who might be watching or listening.) One of the odd and probably unforeseen consequences of the invention of the automobile was that, for the first time, regular individuals had a way of being totally alone, protected by walls of steel (!). It is my guess that one of the reasons that cars are such a central part of our American culture is that a lot more than driving has been going on in cars over that past hundred years!
So, how does privacy and developing character and an authentic personality––a voice––come together?
First of all it is in a state of privacy that one can consider what one’s own honest opinions about something really are, but, more than that, it is in the small quiet hours alone where one can get a sense that one has a self, that one is an individual like no other. It is also during moments of privacy that one can develop a kind of relationship with one’s self, go over the events of the day and consider, have I done the right thing? In other words, self-reflection is also how one develops a conscience––yes, Freud is right that one’s conscience is first developed by the superego, created by the internalization of one’s parents’ admonishments (Freud, 1923)––but Jung was right too, one can develop a more mature conscience and evaluate one's own behavior using one’s individual measure of what seems true to you––a process Jung called individuation (Jung, 1921). Am I doing the right thing based on my own evaluation of myself?
But if we’re not taking the time to be alone, and in fact seem to be developing a culture of people who simply cannot be attentive to anything for more than five minutes, much less withstand being alone, what are we to do?
I cannot answer for the culture but I can make a suggestion for those who would like to become more authentic––who want to “win” in the social business race too––honesty is everything. Honesty with oneself is absolutely a requirement. That takes some alone time. It is not always fun. It is not always “sexy” per se (but hold on, there’s hope, there’s ecstasy, hang in here . . . ).
Honesty as the best sales policy has been around as a principle of good business at least since Dale Carnegie (Carnegie,1936), but more than that, my suggestion is that when one becomes who one really is––something that sounds both easier than it is and also paradoxically harder than it is––the business part of one’s life also becomes what it should be as well. As one works on oneself, one finds that one’s relationships thrive; when one has thriving relationships, a strange thing begins to happen in that the business part of life starts to prosper. There is not a one-for-one correspondence. Certainly, people can tell if you are befriending them to sell them something––why Dale Carnegie’s ideas so often went astray. But there is a core truth that the effort to be honest with oneself has positive consequences that are far-reaching in all aspects of life.
To cut to the practical part of this paper, paradoxically, to do well in social business one must take time to go off-line, to be alone. One must discover the never-ending journey of the special "brand" you, individually, bring to life.
Which leads me to ecstasy––NOT the drug––human beings were created to experience ecstasy: if they cannot get it naturally, then there are epidemics of drug addiction, all sorts of other addictions to attempt some kind of feeling that, actually, human beings are quite good at achieving without drugs.
What is another benefit of turning off distractions and working on becoming authentic is that a door opens up to interpersonal relationships that is extremely intense and well worth the trouble. As I said earlier, there is a connection between becoming who you are and ecstasy, a truth that is not in the public ideas about how to have a great time.
Allow me to go off on a tangent that will reconnect to the main argument in the next paragraph.
It is my opinion––although I did not invent this idea, it is Carl G. Jung’s (Jung, 1921)––that we are all on a continuum of male and female. What is fascinating is that we project onto the other gender our own inner self. In my case, I would project my inner maleness onto a real-life man who seems to match my ideal. I would “fall” in love (essentially with myself) and enjoy a certain kind of pleasure with that person, the privacy that sexual pleasure needs is not what I promised to explain at the beginning (that particular privacy still exists): but, rather, the privacy one needs to develop ecstasy according to Jung is extended time alone with this person whom one has “fallen in love” so as to discover the amazing secret that this person is NOT who you thought he or she was; but is, in fact, a very real person in his/her own right. Here is where the two come together, one gets to enjoy the incredibly powerful experience of really being with another person, not a made-up person that you projected onto another, but a real other person. Conversely, the experience of being seen for who YOU really are is much closer to the ancient religious mysteries of initiation by highly self-aware priests and priestesses than it is anything modern. Such a recognition results in a feeling akin to sexual pleasure, but is what ecstasy means. Sexual pleasure can be a part of this experience, too, as the Tantric Yogis teach. It is this kind of intimate privacy that our culture dismisses. There is not even a general awareness that this is something to hope for, or work toward. The entire transaction of becoming truly known and knowing someone else intimately is not on our radar screens. We are enchanted by the computer and TV and mobile screens to the point that we’re not remembering ancient truths about what it means to be human; and the highlight of our humanness: making contact with someone else.
The word, machine, comes from the Greek, “to trick,” and I believe people walking around with Cell Phonatonia really are being tricked, enchanted, a kind of spell has been cast; but we all have the ability to resist this spell, to close the door, sit on the beach, do whatever it takes to take back time for ourselves to hear our inner voice, then to make time for our love partners to really listen and really share the truth about ourselves with them, take the time to see them for who they really are; then, finally, as our relationship with our own self becomes more grounded, more complete; as we find the personal contact and the experience of ecstasy that follows from that with a love partner––an ecstasy that I think we were created to experience––then our social and business relationships will dramatically improve. When we have good relationships? All aspects of life will prosper too.
Amazingly, as a culture, social business is forcing us to reintegrate an ancient element of culture, the very element that technology itself, it was feared not that long ago, would deprive us of: namely it is requiring that we re-contact our deepest experience of our humanness and save ourselves from becoming automatons, robots, or even nine-to-fivers. If one works online? One does not need x number of hours as one does in a factory line. Instead, we can reintegrate our work into our lives so that we can experience spontaneity, we can be working on a computer and see that look in the eye of our significant other and grab our partner and close the door . . . and I leave the rest to your imagination.
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Carnegie, D. (1936) 1998). How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York: Pocket Books.
Carr, N. (2011). The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Freud, S. (1923) 1961). The Ego and the Id. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Jung, C. G. (1921) 1971). Psychological Types. Princeton: Princeton University Press.