The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Privacy: The True Meaning

In Chapter 4 of Little Brother, Doctorow gives a great definition and explanation of what privacy is and how it is sometimes construed in the modern age when he relates keeping information private and going to the bathroom. He explains that there is not anything inherently wrong, weird, or shameful about going to the bathroom, but that everyone would be hesitant about doing it in public with hundreds of people watching. Of course we would all agree with this, so then why is it wrong to keep some things we do on the internet private? The answer that Doctorow wants to get across is that it is not wrong at all, “it’s about your life belonging to you.”

The reason this particular passage stood out to me the most was because I have always agreed that you should be allowed to keep certain things private on the internet without it being considered weird or wrong, but I never could really come up with a really good reason why. When I read this part of the novel, I was frankly kind of amazed. An analogy that seems so far-fetched at first glance, worked perfectly to explain how I feel about privacy on the Internet. That particular passage was so well done and relatable that after reading it I found myself being much more empathetic towards Marcus as the novel progressed.

Image: “Please!,” by Josh Hallett, Flickr (CC)


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  1. dininoed

    I agree that I never really had a good argument for online privacy until I read that passage and other similar ones. I used to buy into the argument that you should not need privacy if you have nothing to hide and are innocent. However, I like Doctorow’s argument made by Marcus: “It’s not about doing something shameful. It’s about doing something private. It’s about your life belonging to you.” The bathroom analogy makes a similar point and also shows that it isn’t weird or wrong activity, it is just something private. These messages and points made throughout the book also made me more sympathetic to Marcus and made me question how I would feel if my privacy were being so harshly taken away from me.

  2. vreelaap

    While I do believe that there are certain things that are meant to be kept private, such as going to the bathroom, putting things on the Internet is a completely different situation. When you put something on Facebook, email, or Instant Message, you are putting it out there for other people to see. While emailing and Instant Messaging is not as public as Facebook, you are still putting it down in writing for people to have access to. Similarly, even if you don’t even put something on the Internet, it is still permanently embedded on your computer. My point is, if you want to keep something private, keep it to yourself.

  3. Malakm

    It is true that sharing information via Facebook, Twitter, Email, and Instant Message is releasing information for people to access. But does it have to be this way? I am a firm believer in the right to privacy, and in today’s ever advancing world, we are relying more and more on technology and the internet to connect us with one another. Therefore, the logical conclusion is not to abandon the use of the internet entirely, since it greatly adds to the quality of our lives. It makes more sense to regulate what is being recorded or embedded in the memories of the devices we use, as well as who has access to the information that we share.

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