Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Big Brother is Writing a Modernist Novel About You

From "Imperial Bedroom," in How to Be Alone, by Jonathan Franzen. Originally appeared in 1998.

"The novelist Richard Powers recently declared in a Times op-ed piece that privacy is a 'vanishing illusion' and that the struggle over the encryption of digital communications is therefore as 'great with consequence' as the Cold War. Powers defines 'the private' as 'that part of life that goes unregistered,' and he sees in the digital footprints we leave whenever we charge things the approach of 'that moment when each person's every living day will become a Bloomsday, recorded in complete detail and reproducible with a few deft keystrokes.' It is scary, of course, to think that the mystery of our identities might be reducible to finite data sequences. That Powers can seriously compare credit-card fraud and intercepted cell-phone calls to thermonuclear incineration, however, speaks mainly to the infectiousness of privacy panic. Where, after all, is it 'registered' what Powers or anybody else is thinking, seeing, saying, wishing, planning, dreaming, and feeling ashamed of? A digital Ulysses consisting of nothing but a list of its hero's purchases and other recordable transactions might run, at most, to four pages: was there really nothing more to Bloom's day?"

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: