Privacy Is Following Chivalry To the Grave

A very interesting article in the Washington Post suggests that, like chivalry before it, privacy is soon to be an outdated notion. In fact, just as chivalry created a restrictive, unequal society, too great an insistence on privacy is restrictive to growth and innovation.

The article is titled:

Privacy is following chivalry to the grave. Here’s why that’s a good thing.
By Dominic Basulto


In the digital era, it’s not only government agencies and Silicon Valley companies spying on us or attempting to monetize our data — it’s our smart TVs and our futuristic cars. And, once the Internet of Things gets fully connected, you can finally say goodbye to privacy, as just about any device will have the ability to eavesdrop on our conversations and report data in real-time. Privacy, once a right, is now not even a social norm.

In many ways, the end of the age of privacy bears a resemblance to the passing of another great value — chivalry. We all claim to mourn the passing of chivalry – and perhaps at no time more than during the run-up to Valentine’s Day — but consider what chivalry gave us: a patriarchal, hierarchical and class-based society that was literally medieval. Chivalry may have given us honor, nobility and courtly graces, but it also gave us income disparity, gender-specific roles, and a male-dominated boardroom. In short, society outgrew chivalry — just like society is about to outgrow traditional notions of privacy. …

Spend just a few minutes on today’s Internet, though, and you’ll realize that [the] notion of privacy is already an anachronism. Our accounts are hacked, our photos are uploaded for all to see, our medical records are open secrets and our intimate dealings and e-mails are “proclaimed from the house-tops.” Instead of wanting to be “let alone,” we now want to be part of communities and networks. To top it all off, “pieces of personal information are not only social currency but also more or less the basis for the entire world of online commerce.” …

The reason why the digital era has resulted in an astonishing erosion of privacy is that open, networked connected societies tend to develop faster. The closed off ones don’t innovate and grow their economies. From that perspective, too much privacy is actually a net drag on innovation. And big data, if anything, is hyper-accelerating this shift in how we think about sharing our data because it is eroding our privacy in two key areas that were once verboten: health information and financial information. …

[A]ttempts to regain privacy rights in the digital era at times appear to be a nostalgic grab for an earlier, analog era when privacy mattered so much more. …

We live in an era when everyone gets hacked, any post on social media might end up somewhere else, the government will spy on us (no matter what it says), and all of our personal records could end up in the wrong hands. Privacy may not have died in 2014, but it sure seems like it’s on life-support. And, with the Internet of Things, we’re just getting started. A generation from now, the fact that we had any privacy will seem quaint, if not distinctly medieval.


I have been having discussions with several people this last week on the subject of the Internet of Things. It’s certainly coming and in some instances it isn’t coming fast enough but in others it just seems like putting lipstick on the pig (I need internet access to my two-slice toaster?). Internet access in our cars in bound to be ubiquitous in a few years; Turning on the oven or closing the forgotten garage door remotely sounds useful too. But I’m uncertain about these new two-way televisions that can pick-up and transmit conversations back to the vendor or to some other nefarious site.

What will be the use of these eavesdropping appliances: will NFL teams fire players if they hear too much grumbling from the TV fans watching the Sunday game? Will soap operas quickly rewrite their scripts if TV viewers express hope and prayers that the already written-out character lying mangled in a hospital bed after a horrendous automobile accident miraculously survives and marries the gardener’s daughter? will the evening news only broadcast stories that return happy, contented sounds from America’s living rooms?

I think this two-way television should also transmit rude bodily gases for those times I actually stop to watch Sean Hannity.

On the other hand, I see the amalgamation of the television, the telephone, the computer, and the nightlight as being inevitable and probably for the good. Although there are many science fiction or just futuristic stories and movies where the all-purpose video device is characteristically associated with Big Brother watching. “What’s it gonna be then, eh?”


When I was in Graduate School, my first concentration was Medieval Literature. As such we read beaucoup de chivalric texts, especially in French with authors such as Crétien de Troyes. Looking back at this topic I thought a simple graphic might inform those readers who were not steeped in the chivalric tradition and those oh-so-manly medieval knights. Note that the Code of Chivalry is obviously an anathema to today’s Republican Party in almost every point.


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