Thanks to Turner Classic Movies I recently got to watch a movie I last saw in 1969. It happens to be one which I’ve mentioned frequently to friends and coworkers when discussing our emerging digital media. The film is a satirical comedy called The President’s Analyst, and while being frighteningly prophetic it also demonstrates the changes that have taken place in our concepts of personal space and privacy.
Briefly, the film stars James Coburn as apsychoanalyst retained to provide therapy for the President of the Untied States. Within months of taking on this responsibility, Coburn’s character becomes increasingly paranoid as he discovers that he is being wire tapped and subjected to constant surveillance in the interest of national security. Ultimately, he chooses to run, and immediately becomes the most sought after quarry of the FBI, CIA, and KGB, as well as agents from every other country interested in learning what he knows.
The organization that finally traps him, however, is The Phone Company (way back then there was only one). He’s transported to their high-tech lair where a robotic executive (literally…a robot) explains with the support of Disney-like animation, what The Phone Company is after. Using the “personal information” about the President that only Coburn has, they wish to “convince” the leader of the free world to support a law requiring that all names be replaced with personal telephone numbers, and that telephone transmitters be embedded in the heads of all citizens. “All you have to do is think of the number of the person you wish to speak with,” the executive explains, “and you’re in instant communication…anywhere in the world.”
You see where this is going. At the time, the idea of such an invasion of personal privacy was looked at with horror. Of course, today we happily pay for the privilege of constant availability, and the younger you are the harder it is to be out of touch. More than that, we are apparently eager to expose our personalities and what used to be considered private moments with anyone who has a PC or cell phone. George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984, raised the specter of a future government constantly watching its citizens and knowing what each was doing all the time. When high school students study Orwell’s book in the not too distant future, they’ll probably wonder why Big Brother didn’t just follow Winston Smith on Twitter. Funny how perceptions change, isn’t it?
Now, I’m not saying that our new, digital reality is a bad thing. Good and bad aren’t really relevant issues when you’re dealing with fundamental changes in the ways we communicate. (Was television good or bad? Talk amongst yourselves.) Web 2.0 is about sharing, and what we need to be aware of is that too much sharing can be a dangerous thing. Our concepts of relationship are changing, and no one knows where we’re headed. But we need to retain some degree of personal privacy for the sake of our individual psyches. To quote El Gallo’s last line from The Fantastics—something else I first saw in 1969: “Leave the wall. Remember…you must always leave the wall.” He wasn’t talking about the one on Facebook.
Leave your thoughts- Are we as a society leaving too much information about ourselves online?
Executive Vice President- Creative Director & copywriter