If the internet is going to destroy our privacy, can it take our prudishness too?

So everyone is all Panic Room about the Petraeus scandal and how it means that we’ll never be able to write e-mails or send text messages or fuck LinkedIn connections ever again. Fallows says we shouldn’t put anything in an e-mail we wouldn’t want our boss to see! Kaylan says there’s no such thing as privacy anymore! Sullivan says no public figure is safe from scandal!

I say we all need to grow up. If we’ve learned anything in the past 50 years, as the press has peered with increasing enthusiasm into the Jockeys of our public figures, it’s that nobody’s clean, nobody’s sinless, nobody’s even all that nice. Social media and the internet have opened the fly even further.

Instead of reconstructing a bygone era when it was easier for public figures to hide who they really are, we need a common understanding of morality and social norms that allow us to separate ‘violation of the public trust’ from ‘meh, everyone does it’. In other words, we need to stop caring. 

We’re shocked every time a politician or  celebrity appears in a sex tape, posts naked photos online, admits to some exotic fetish, etcetera. That shock, though, is a relic, an appendage of the belief that not that many people are doing such things. We gasp at sexual shenanigans under the assumption that they represent extreme human behavior.

And, increasingly, they don’t. I sort of hope that in 50 years we’ll live in an American where most people have ChatRouletted, possess self-taken naked pictures, own their weird sexual tastes, reveal their open marriages. Moral outrage isn’t so much you shouldn’t be doing this as it is nobody else is. Once we can assume everyone is doing these things, we won’t have to pretend to be shocked by them anymore. 

If the internet means losing our privacy, maybe losing our privacy means hiding less of ourselves. Shine enough light and the shadows disappear. I hope that, as our eyes adjust, we’ll realize they were never really shadows at all.

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