A telephone, a time machine and redefining privacy

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In my last blog “Not a serious means of communication” I quoted an internal memo sent by Western Union in 1876 who notoriously stated about the telephone “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”

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Whilst reading around the history of the telephone and how is changed society it is easy to see that in the early days there were many issues with the telephone “Bell’s “speaking telephone” was not universally welcomed. Some people dismissed it as a scientific toy of little value.” (Sounding familiar?) (audiouk 2013) The more I read the more I found similarities between the early days of the telephone and the rise of social media however the issues that really struck me were the early problems xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx that the telephone encountered with privacy….

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9152273_sIn the early days of the telephone people didn’t have telephones in their houses so would have go to the local store or some other central point to be able to make and receive calls. “Eavesdroppers could hear you conduct your personal business as you used a public phone.” (Elon 2013) And in addition to this Switchboard operators who connected the calls would also regularly listen into people conversations.  People were worried about their privacy. But yet here we are today with not only a telephone in every home but in every pocket and in every handbag! Some of the privacy issues were solved by technology but some of the privacy issues we just learned to live with … rarely are we concerned with eavesdroppers on our telephone conversations these days and we hold telephone conversations in all sorts of public places .. we have evolved and redefined privacy.

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7407967_sIf we now jump into our DeLorean time machine and hop and skip “Back to the Future” (apologies for the pun but it’s my favourite film so had to squeeze it into my blogging somehow!) and get back to social media I often hear people expressing concerns over privacy.  Anyone who uses any form of social media only has to Google themselves to see the effect that it has on their privacy.  We are now sharing all sorts of personal events from birthdays to barbecues and these events can often be seen by many eyes.  Everything that we say and post in social spaces has the potential to be permanent and duplicated. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame describes privacy as a fluid concept says “to his mind, the development of the Web has fundamentally reshaped people’s expectation about what information should be private, and the extent to which they are willing to live their lives in a public forum.” Privacy is again being redefined.

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13094516_sYes there are “privacy issues” with social media – and in healthcare this is  even more apparent than in many areas of life – but what technology doesn’t sort out (as with the switchboard operators in the early days of the telephone) society will evolve, develop and cope with.  We also have to remember that it is up to us what we share and don’t share and we should take responsibility for this.  However social media is redefining what our parents saw as privacy and our digitally native children will only see this new version of privacy … for us, the generation stuck in the middle we can take solace in the fact that we are all using telephones with a complete disregard for the historical privacy issues.