Sharing is Scary

Edward Snowden, the man who made public and overt what we long tacitly understood about the government’s surveillance activities, issued a video last Christmas in which he remarked:

A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves — an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that’s a problem, because privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.

That’s perhaps a slight exaggeration, but only a very little one.  What’s worse is that we seem to be willing to do it for ourselves.

The other day, I noticed that a small Facebook logo had appeared on an update to the media player on my tablet.  I selected it to find a control to publish what I was currently listening to on my Facebook account.

I hit ‘cancel’ and shuddered:  I was glad, in that moment, that I do not have a Facebook account.  The thought of someone, outside my home, tracking my personal choices in music, gave me the creeps.  (Not that it might not happen anyway, given the state of government surveillance, but why would I volunteer what is intensely private for me?)

But there are doubtless people who are happy to post their current selections to the world.

The latest trend in managing education seems to be to give ‘high-stakes’ tests to children as young as 5.  I’m not sure of the wisdom of giving standardized tests to kindergarteners, but I had them from about the second grade, and nobody thought they were anything other than a part of the school experience.  (I actually liked test day better than the regular school day, as it was quiet and I could focus.)

But some of the reports of teachers who have to administer standardized tests to young children are telling: this is apparently the first time the children are asked to perform as individuals, and for the children, it’s not a comfortable experience.  Some of them, brought up with the notion that ‘sharing is caring,’ tried to help their classmates; some of them, realizing that they would have to work alone, got physically ill.

When I was a kid in school, there were things that we did collectively, and things we did as individuals, and that seemed the natural order of things.  There were things to share, and things not to share.  But now, the individual doesn’t matter, it seems.  Everything is to be shared.  The trend was there when I was growing up: the school’s biggest complaint about me as a youngster was that I ‘didn’t get along with the group.’  But the notion has apparently come to full fruition now.

To be sure, indiscriminate, overreaching government surveillance is evil.  But if the young are brought up to believe that the collective is everything, and their individuality is only relevant as it relates to the collective, then it doesn’t matter what the government does.

We will have surrendered our privacy ourselves, as much as the government took it from us.

3 thoughts on “Sharing is Scary”

  1. One reason that I disagree with high-stakes testing is that there is too much temptation to “teach to the test”, because test results are what determine federal aid and teacher salaries and promotions. Things are worse than you think. Texas Monthly covered a story a few months ago that discussed how Texas high schools encourage, and even force, students who aren’t making high enough scores to drop out in order to keep the average score up. Forty years ago, these students might have been tracked into vocational training.

    When the word “oversharing” falls into disuse, I’ll consider the privacy suck complete. We don’t create words for concepts that we don’t need. Many people have lost the ability (or may not ever have learned) to sit quietly in a room or tolerate being alone, and need a level of stimulation that I find intolerable.

    I tried having a Facebook account. I closed it within a few months because it was just annoying. I had set up a separate e-mail account to which to link it, and a name different from my own for the posting name.

    I’m used to a greater level of compromise of my privacy than usual because of the work that I do. I’m in a job that requires random drug testing and that I pass an annual physical, but the more troubling part is the financial disclosure. That someone can lose their job or fail to be hired if otherwise qualified because they filed bankruptcy or have bad credit seems wrong to me. Mitigating information is considered, such as high medical bills. If you can’t get a job or keep the current job, how do you set things right?

  2. I’ll admit that I’m not clear on what makes a ‘high-stakes’ test. The closest thing that I can think of in my own experience were the SATs that I took in high school. But, other than a couple of teachers who composed exercises similar to the SAT questions, there was no ‘teaching to the test,’ and whatever I got on the SAT would not affect my report-card grades. The other standardized tests that I took through high school were either easier than, or consistent with, my real lessons.

    It’s one thing to submit to ‘voluntary’ disclosure as a condition of employment. But that’s different from the government’s snorfing up everyone’s communications.

    1. I believe that the goal of “high-stakes testing” is to ensure that students are performing at their grade level. If I remember correctly, New Jersey started having a sort of “exit exam” when I was in high school in the mid-1970s, and the tests slowly extended to lower grades.

      I question how voluntary the information that I must provide in the course of my employment is, because it is a condition of employment. True, I am free not to work for them and to seek employment elsewhere. I suspect that my file would put people to sleep.

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