Writer’s Block: Movie makes you think about privacy vs. transparency

Staff Writer
I cover the cities of Andover, Blaine and Ramsey. I have worked at ABC Newspapers since August 2007.

Do you prefer privacy or transparency?

Eric Hagen
Eric Hagen

It’s a straightforward question, but one without simple answers. It’s a question that’s been asked for generations and answers will weigh heavily based on personal experiences and where society is at around them.

It’s a question I weigh, often without too much thought, every time I post on Facebook or write a column. I generally lean more on the privacy side for my columns than my Facebook posts although I’m still a very cautious person who really thinks through the impact my words and actions have.

“The Circle” is a new release in theaters that really makes you consider this question. It’s worth seeing once, whether you go now or wait for it to be released on DVD.

It’s far from a perfect movie. The running time could have been a little shorter. And I would have preferred an ending that left fewer questions unanswered although the subject is such that there can truly be no beginning or end. The questions raised in this movie will always be asked. It’s just a matter of what the technology of the day will allow us to do.

The general premise of the movie is that Emma Watson’s character goes to work for a company that seeks a more open society with fewer secrets. A catchphrase of the chief executive officer, played by Tom Hanks, is “Knowing is good, but knowing everything is better.”

A senator offers to load information from every document she receives and conversation she has on “The Circle” so there are no back-room deals happening without the knowledge of her constituents. As a reporter who sometimes needs to fight a little harder to get information the public deserves, that sounded pretty good to me.

But then there’s a scene when an employee of “The Circle” is talking about designing a computer chip that could be implanted in a child’s bones so that authorities could quickly locate them if they wandered off. I’m soon to be a first-time parent and I cannot imagine how horrifying it must feel to lose sight of your child even for a split second.

But are we really willing to allow someone to implant a chip in our kid so we can always track them? I wouldn’t sign up for that. What are they going to do when you’re 18 years old? Take out the chip so they can’t track you as an adult? I doubt it would be that simple. It’s hard enough to opt out of telemarketer calls.

Facebook has made it easier to track down friends you haven’t seen in years. I was really happy to re-connect with friends from high school that I hadn’t seen in a decade. But “The Circle” used its network of followers to track people down in minutes to their exact location at that moment.

While I’d love to see this technology used to track down fugitives and criminal suspects, using it to track down a long lost love or a friend who drifted apart would be extremely disturbing.

On social media, you can at least choose whether to accept an invitation or follow someone. At least, you don’t have to literally be followed by stalkers.

But even if you can choose your Facebook “friends” there still are ways where others can access this information and find out so much about you depending on your privacy settings.

Ultimately, the more technology and convenience we want, the more we lose our privacy. We can’t do much about the cameras and it’s hard to keep track of who are shopping habitats information is being sold to for marketing purposes, but we can control our online presence. Just remember to think about the consequences before you hit the “send” or “post” button.

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