Glancing around the interior of the immaculate taxi cab, of which the driver was expressively proud, I noticed a small sign in the corner of a window that said, “Vehicle equipped with security camera system…All occupants will be photographed.” Earlier that morning, Mark Zuckerberg was scheduled to appear before congress, so I was already primed on the issue of personal privacy. Evidently by stepping into the taxi I had unknowingly agreed to be photographed—in the manner of Facebook assuming our personal info is fair game once we download the app.
I chose not to engage the driver, but I did get to thinking about our privacy, or the lack thereof. I’ve heard many commentators opine on how we’ve traded it for connectivity, or in the case of the taxi, convenience and service. God only knows how many pictures of me there are floating around in the cloud. This unnerves me (like the time I received, in the mail, a hard copy of a photo of me in my car in a bus lane attached to a pricey moving violation ticket.) “They” are out there watching—be forewarned…and they know everything about you…where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing…etc. etc.
We’ll see how this evolves. I don’t like it. We can opt out of Facebook, of course, although the matter doesn’t end there. It seems that to be part of the World Wide Web is to offer oneself on the altar of anonymity. We’ll see if the body politic cares enough to address this thoroughly. I’m skeptical.
The problem is that the use of our personal data feels like the breach of a sacred boundary, our personal identity and selfhood. Our apartment was robbed some years ago and more than the loss of property I was angry about the sense of personal violation—someone was in my home rummaging around in my stuff. Yuck.
We love the electronic wonderland we’ve created, all it cost was making ourselves wide open books of info and data bits that could be swapped and sold and manipulated at the whim of hundreds, thousands, millions of users next door and around the world.
Sitting in that taxi it occurred to me there is a kind of spiritual comeuppance in this reality. In some ways privacy is a complicated concept that varies with the topic under consideration. It has touchpoints with confidentiality and secrets and masquerade. For the spiritual seeker, for the one who desires to know and to be known by God, self-disclosure is the only path forward. This can be a searing experience, this shedding of accumulated layers of “identities.”
Honest pilgrims discover that they have an innate preference for remaining hidden, even from themselves, and the fundamental task in gaining spiritual maturity requires surrendering this pretense.
Psalm 139 begins this way:
O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it…
If you want, look up the rest here.