Someone once offered some advice that went something like this: “If you don’t want your grandmother to read it on the front page of tomorrow’s paper, don’t say it.”
That could be expanded these days to, “If you don’t want your grandmother to read it on the front page of tomorrow’s paper or potentially everyone with a computer read it on Facebook or see it on YouTube, don’t say it, write it or do it.”
That’s because in this age of instant communications and social media, someone or some device is generally near you, ready to capture your every written or spoken word and all of your actions.
Broadcasters and public figures, like politicians, have always been warned to treat microphones as if they are live because they could be. But now all of us — not just broadcasters and public figures — are at the mercy of not just open microphones but surveillance cameras, miniature audio recorders and cell phones that record sound, take photos and make videos.
Drones equipped with video cameras can peer into your window and watch you get dressed or hover over your backyard and watch you sunbathe.
Some people have learned about the lack of privacy the hard way.
They have been caught making private remarks to individuals or small groups that ended up going public and came back to haunt them.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa made some remarks to a group of lawyers at a Texas fundraiser that no doubt cost him some votes in his unsuccessful bid for a U.S. Senate seat.
Braley, a lawyer, was caught in a videotape posted online disparaging Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is a farmer.
“If you help me win this race, you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice — someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years in a visible and public way — on the Senate Judiciary (Committee),” Braley told the group. “Or you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary. Because if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the next chair of the Senate Judiciary.”
Braley later apologized to Grassley, but the damage was done.
Another person whose comments have recently caused controversy is MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, described by many as an architect of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and Romneycare in Massachusetts before that.
In a 2013 video Gruber said of Obamacare, “If you have a law that makes explicit that healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it wouldn’t have passed. Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage and, basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever. But basically that was really critical to getting the thing to pass.”
Gruber has apologized on MSNBC for what he calls his “off-the-cuff” remarks.
On the local level, a staff member of Illinois U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos resigned in October for saying that constituents in some parts of Rockford spend more time in jail than in church.
District director Heidi Schultz quit after Bobby Schilling, who later lost to Bustos in the November general election, released an audio recording of Schultz making the comments to a constituent last winter.
Schultz said she did not know she was being recorded. Bustos called the comments “unacceptable on every front.”
Yes, someone’s listening, and someone’s watching. We worry about Big Brother — the government — keeping track of us. But maybe we should worry more about being studied by others like ourselves.
Copyright 2014 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.This piece ran as a column in “The North Scott Press,” Eldridge, Iowa.