Let’s face it. There are just some things in the modern world that are destined to disappear. Things like coal power, overt racial discrimination, and the Macarena are destined to become relics of a bygone era. Some already have to some extent. Others, like snail mail, poor WiFi, and the Kardashians, can’t go away soon enough.
So what does this have to do with privacy? Why am I even bringing up privacy? Is this another case of an erotica/romance writer having a few too many glasses of whiskey when he writes? Well, except for the whiskey part, those questions already have answers.
For the past couple of days, I’ve been talking about the emerging technologies that will allow brain-to-brain communication. Like an updated iPhone, it’s one of those technologies that we know is coming. It’s just a matter of getting here and having a major company profit the hell out of it.
You may not think it’s likely now, but at some point someone will find a way to make sharing thoughts an obscenely profitable business. We get people to pay for bottled water and a haunted rubber duck. There are plenty of gullible people with money in this society is what I’m saying.
Going back to privacy, it’s fairly obvious that we’re already in the process of ditching it to some extent. It used to be that the craziest, dumbest, most asinine stuff we said in our day-to-day lives never left our close circle of friends. Now, we feel compelled to share all those crazy thoughts online.
Look at me. I’m doing that right now. I’m sharing thoughts I never would’ve shared in polite conversation 20 years ago. Then again, 20 years ago I had a horrible acne problem and the piss-poor social skills of a ferret so it’s not like I was in a position to do much sharing. The internet and social media has changed all that. It’s given us an opportunity to kick our concepts of privacy in the balls and beat it with a hammer into something else.
This has had consequences. Just ask anyone who had an Ashley Madison account a few years ago. It’s bound to have more consequences, especially as an emerging generation matures into a world that has never known the pain of dial-up internet. This is a generation for whom sexting will be akin to copping a feel in the back seat of a car. Admit it. You envy that generation to some degree.
However, it’s the generation after that who may really deliver the final nail in the coffin of privacy. That generation will likely come into a world where brain-to-brain communication has matured, is a growing business, and has people bitching about fees for sharing certain thoughts. How will that generation view privacy?
Well for once, we really don’t need a thought experiment or some exercise in existential logic. In fact, we need only a history book and a general understanding of how humans form tribes. Go to any message board that celebrates a certain romantic pairing on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” It doesn’t take much.
Nature has wired our bodies to be good at a lot of things, albeit in hilariously crude ways. Just look at the design of the male scrotum. However, one design that has been remarkably efficient is our ability to form tribes and groups. It’s that kind of coordination and cooperation that has helped us dominate this planet, build civilizations, and form Hugh Jackman fan clubs.
It’s also this uncanny ability to form tribes that’ll make the techno-telepathy of brain-to-brain communication so appealing to future generations. It may seem crazy now to those of us who still dread the thought of someone hacking our phones and sharing all the embarrassing pictures of us on FaceBook. I’ve always worked under the assumption that someone has already hacked my phone and that keeps me from capturing anything too compromising in my private moments.
However, with techno-telepathy, there’s nothing left to compromise. Everything is laid out for someone else to see. Your hopes, dreams, fears, and perverse sexual fantasies are all laid out in a beautifully rendered image. Can we even cope with that kind of transparency?
Well, the average congressperson notwithstanding, we have kind of done it before. In fact, we had that kind of transparency for a good chunk of human history. This brings me back to “Sex At Dawn,” a book that has been remarkably useful in discussing such sexy, taboo topics. In addition to talking about the shapes of penises and female orgasms, it does talk about privacy.
Granted, it’s not as sexy as the other topics discussed, but it is relevant in that it explores the pre-interent, pre-agriculture concepts of privacy. In short, there was none. In fact, from a purely practical standpoint, there couldn’t be any privacy.
That’s because those societies were hunter/gatherer societies. These societies were small, close-knit tribes of people who worked together, cooperated, and shared resources to survive. This is not some hippie commune out of John Lennon fantasy. These were very functional, very adaptive groups that played a big part in how human beings evolved.
In those societies, privacy is kind of redundant because they need to share resources. They don’t have big cities or elaborate infrastructure. They need to cooperate or they won’t survive. Part of cooperation means being overly transparent. That means sharing shelter, living space, food, and lovers. Yes, sharing can be sexy. It just comes at the cost of privacy. Some may think that’s a fair trade.
When you don’t have a lot of property or resources of your own, what’s the point of privacy? It’s not that it’s ignored. It’s not that it doesn’t exist to some degree. It’s just redundant in a hunter/gatherer setting. Keep in mind though, it’s in this setting that our species evolved. For the caveman in us, privacy is more a construct than an innate trait.
That’s because our concept or privacy really didn’t exist until the modern concept of property rights emerged. The concept of a public/private sphere is a fairly modern invention. Again, it’s largely out of necessity. When you have a society that relies heavily on accumulating and distributing resources on a large scale, the need for some measure of privacy is unavoidable, if only to avoid extortion and exploitation.
This is where the techno-telepathy of brain-to-brain communication really gets interesting. Whereas modern notions of privacy are relatively recent, less private habits of our cavemen ancestors are still hardwired into our tribal traits. That means the growth of techno-telepathy could be one of those tools actually complements our caveman nature rather instead of conflicting with it.
What could this mean for us as individuals and as a society? What could it mean for our love lives? Well, if our history as hunter/gatherers is any indication, this tool would make it far easier for us to form telepathic tribes, of sorts. We find people who appreciate and share our thoughts. We develop close bonds with those people. Some may even become romantic and sexual. When you’re sharing your most intimate thoughts with people, that’s kind of inevitable.
It could be disruptive or it could be productive for society. When we start sharing both literal and figurative thoughts with one another, privacy as we know it will take on a whole new meaning. It won’t disappear completely. It’ll just change. We’re terrified of sharing naked pictures of ourselves now. How will we feel when we start sharing are deepest, dirtiest, sexiest thoughts?
It’s an interesting notion to consider and one I hope to see play out in the coming decades. I have a feeling it’ll give me plenty of sexy ideas for future novels.