Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Secret Life 

In these times of Twitter and online journals that amount to public diaries there is a growing fear that we've willingly given away our privacy. Not only does such openness make us susceptible to fraud or exploitation, but it's just plain annoying. Perhaps offsetting this exposure is the ability to be completely anonymous online ("On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog.")

I enjoy some of that anonymity while generally keeping a pretty transparent online life (though Facebook may be the straw that broke this camel's back). I do have a secret. I download movies. I only download movies that I'd be too embarrassed to rent at our local video store. For instance, I recently rented an early Polanski film, Cul-de-Sac, considered one of his important early films (along with Knife in the Water — another film I've rented) but I recently downloaded Hancock and Tropic Thunder. Both are entertaining to a point yet if I'd rented them, I would've felt cheated of the dollars I'd spent and the time wasted. By downloading them, neither did I have to waste any money or any time spent standing in the video store trying to make up my mind. Plus, my record of video rentals remains clean (save for a couple of Will Ferrell films). You see, I know that the receipts of my rentals are my "public record" of my movie watching and cinematic tastes. Which presents a curious conundrum for all the sociologists thinking about such things. Maybe people are sophisticated enough to know that all of their "tweets" and posts are out in the public view and are really a very different person on the other side of the keyboard.

Then again, pollsters already know this. It's known that respondents to surveys generally answer as they think they're expected to answer and what they're really thinking is something quite different (see the "Bradley Effect"). Couldn't the same thing be true of our online personas?

Only time will tell or maybe time will keep that to itself.



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