My 17-year old daughter shouted to me from the next room: “What’s a good stripper name?” After a brief moment of contemplating why she might need to know this information and why she was asking me to help her, I opened my IPad and typed “best stripper names” into Google search.
She was writing a play for school and a comedic moment turned on the use of a name that could belong to a stripper but also could be considered a reasonable name for a newborn child. At least that’s what she said was the reason for the request.
I called out “Crystal? Autumn? Bambi? Ginger? Jade? Dallas?” No response. I brought the IPad to her and opened another site as I placed it beside her. There were name choices on this site too, but I found it hard to read them since the page was covered with images of naked breasts the size of my head and some far too close up pictures of other parts of the female anatomy. The body parts were attached to women with bee-stung glossy lips, fake eyelashes thick with mascara and cascading hair extensions. A few of these “lovely” women were gyrating on the screen.
“Wow, Mom. I only asked for the names. That’s pretty disgusting.”
Agreed, but unlike my daughter, I wasn’t in the least bit shocked. As a writer of fiction, I am a serial Googler of sometimes unsavory words and phrases. “Methods of Torture.” “Raping and Pillaging.” “Dog sex” “How do you make poison with household products?” These search names often lead me to thoroughly disgusting web pages, often worse than the one I brought to my daughter. Sometimes the pages are more disturbing than disgusting. Sometimes the words cause me to turn away, feeling sick to my stomach and deeply troubled by the way some minds work.
But often I find, amidst the junk Google spits out, the information that helps me to write somewhat knowledgeably about something I previously knew nothing about.
Not too long ago, a screenwriter I know, who specializes in the horror genre, said that he’d be seriously worried if the authorities ever got ahold of his Google history. Even I can see I’d look like a lunatic, he said. The details of his online research, like that of mine and many other writers and random Googlers, could be misconstrued.
I have to say with the recent revelations regarding National Security Agency surveillance, I can’t help but feel a bit uncomfortable, not just about my Google history but about all the ways I use electronic communications: social media, email, texting, phone calls and my blog.
I read through a recently released study by the literary and human rights organization, PEN, which details several things the NSA has done/is doing that directly impacts U.S. residents. According to this study, the NSA has collected millions of phone records of Verizon, Sprint and AT & T subscribers, has the ability to search through “vast databases containing emails, online chats, and the browsing histories of millions of individuals” with no prior authorization, and among other things which I’m not mentioning here but you can read in the report, the NSA has built a system, “in conjunction with telecommunications companies, that can reach deep into the U.S. Internet backbone and cover 75% of traffic in the country, including not only metadata but the content of online communications.”
Kind of makes me feel like I’m stuck in a George Orwell book. I don’t like being stuck in a George Orwell book. But I also don’t like the idea that I should rein in my communications because the government is watching us a little too closely.
A few weeks ago, I posted this on Twitter: “I bake cookies. My daughter makes mini pumpkin cheesecakes with salted caramel topping,” and within minutes received an invitation to join the Parent’s Club elite kid protection network, something that had happened to another friend of mine only a few weeks earlier. I commented to her that I thought it was pretty creepy the way we are being watched but that I wasn’t going to crawl back in my hole because of it. She said that she thought/hoped the mass of data floating around provides a certain cushion for us, privacy-wise.
I think she is right about the cushion. I hope she is right. Meanwhile, I’m going about my business, doing what I’ve always done. Still it makes me feel queasy, this idea that things that I do that I don’t care for others to look at too closely may be seen by not just people I know but those whom I don’t know. I’m less worried about being considered a threat based on my Google history than I am troubled by Big Brother thinking it has the right to look over my shoulders (with or without my knowledge.)
Are others feeling wary about all the privacy issues that have come to light recently? Have you been wary all along about privacy issues as you or your children joined the world of social media, etc.? Will you change what you do as a result of the confirmation of what the NSA has been up to? I’d love to hear what you have to say; I guess I can be thankful just this one time that my blog readership rarely tops 200 or so readers. What security agency would look twice at something read by so few?
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