Take a minute, turn it off and take a bath

By Chelsea Fiddyment

Privacy: the word evokes a variety of impassioned definitions. Whether in response to the intrusively broad range of jurisdictions given to the FBI by the Patriot Act or to your mother opening your unlocked bedroom door while you’re having some “alone time,” personal privacy is something most people say they covet. But following the rise of several trends in communication technology, we can’t seem to sacrifice our right to privacy of both time and information fast enough.

You might already have guessed a few of the culprits to which I refer – social networking Web sites like Facebook and MySpace. But others stand out in my mind as well. Cell phones, anyone? On top of that, I think everyone knows at least one acquaintance guilty of leaving his or her instant messaging program on with an extensive away message (which often includes a cell phone number).

“So what?” you might ask yourself. You may feel completely comfortable supplying all your dirty details on your Facebook profile. But perhaps you should ask yourself if you ever possessed an interest in publicly revealing this information prior to becoming addicted to your networking Web site of choice.

Depending upon your privacy settings, people all over your geographic network, as well as anyone using the Web application, can view everything from your personal address to your favorite books (ironically, this follows public complaints about the FBI’s ability to monitor citizens’ library records).

In addition, Facebook’s removal of the mandatory “is” in status messages opens up a greater realm for members to advertise their feelings in an effort to solicit the attention of their friends. That secret sliver of misunderstood teen leftover in your personality from freshman year of high school finds an outlet to freedom, airing sometimes intimately (and uncomfortably) personal business to the people connected with you.

If updating a status message isn’t enough, the ability of IM users to post away messages provides yet another opportunity to broadcast what you’re up to across the Internet. People even notify others when they sleep and shower, times when it fortunately is still possible (often, anyway) to remain free from the contact of others. Why does someone need to leave you a message or attempt to begin a conversation with you if they know you are currently away from your computer? Anything that could possibly be worth discussing can wait, as cleanliness and rest are both advisable parts of human existence. It seems unlikely that anyone will assume you are dead if you exit out of the program when you are unreachable. If such concerns arise, they can always reach you via cell phone.

Although cell phones reveal less about your personal life to strangers, the increases in cell phone ownership and usage have diminished the amount of time we spend alone. Having your cell phone on your person often creates an impulse to call someone whenever possible. And don’t even get me started on texting. There is absolutely no need to send someone a message reading, “how r u im in class lolz” in the middle of a 10 a.m. lecture. Silent and vibrate modes only reinforce this. Times when we should be unreachable – in class, in rehearsal, in bed – we perhaps change the volume setting, but we never just turn the thing off.

Once, phone plans ranged in the hundreds of minutes. Now, they reach into the thousands, and many users still opt to have unlimited texting, as if more time were needed to talk.

Whatever happened to spending time in solitude? What happened to introspective relaxation? At any hour of the day or night, we leave ourselves open to the contact of others, keeping our phones in our jeans pockets and desperately but covertly hoping someone, anyone will call while we’re by ourselves.

We need to shrug off the self-imposed obligation to call and text others just because we have the option.

We need to uninstall the Facebook browser toolbar. We need to log off. And when all this is done, maybe we need to just relax in that bubble bath surrounded by candles and trashy romance novels and enjoy a moment alone-before Mom bursts in.

Chelsea is a junior in English and music and compulsively checks her e-mail five to seven times daily.