austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

So all alone, each by ourselves, we're all alone

One of the hottest new services is the rental privacy agency. These companies promise to give you time and space in which to do things nobody will pay attention to.

``We used to make privacy personally'', said Arline Griffiths of ShooshCom, ``or take it where we found it, after checking to see if anyone had dropped it from their wallet or their other wallet. Now we can churn out privacy as little as someone in the room overlooking your unfortunate nose-scratching or as big as a metropolitan statistical area not noticing how the metropolitan statistical area an hour away thinks they're rivals.''

Dylan Seoh, salutatorian, explained, ``Suppose someone changes his underwear every time he goes to the bathroom. If nobody knows this, unless he fails to wait for the dryer and is known for moist pants, it's secret, sure, but private? But if he's known for changing underwear he's lost privacy. Thus, if people could have known about his habit but did not, then he would not only have privacy, but would keep it. And that's how quality privacy works.''

Seoh gives a further example, ``Suppose you notice whenever you wash your hands there's a little soap scum dab on the mirror just behind the faucet, no matter how carefully you did not send soap foam flying all over known time, space, and dimension. You might wonder if there were some soap-film conspiracy messing up your mirrors. Since it would be deeply embarrassing to give voice to such feelings you never would and the thought would go unrecorded for all time. With someone there to hear, you'd say it and feel humiliated. But with someone listening and ignoring you, you can say such things without anyone thinking you crazy for them. You'd be interesting to listen to, but have privacy instead.''

The industry began in 1996 with Infornotion Telegnore offering for a one-time ``micropayment'' to have their web-patrolling spiders overlook the customer's web site and not archive it, to be inaccessible that weird time four years later when they actually needed the site as it was that particular day. Its popularity doomed it when its servers --- capable of simultaneously not looking at only 15,000 web pages --- were crushed under the workload. It was also hurt by the failure of micropayment revenue schemes, as people prefer being paid in money. They just left the micros in the junk drawer, gathering dust, exchangeable for valuable prizes if anyone remembered to send the form in.

Online ignoring is the core of rental privacy, thanks to the ease with which it matches up people who want privacy with people willing to not pay attention to someone. You need the right balance; someone who wants privacy for a physics problem should be paired with someone understanding physics, since to really count as being ignored, it has to be by someone who could be interested in you. You have to wonder, salutatorian of what.

Whisper Willows, Inc offers an elite and a premium policy, not simultaneously but equivalent, in which they have a person come over who after a decent spot of small talk will then ignore you completely. ``Certainly it's expensive and time-consuming,'' said a spokesman whose name we didn't quite get, ``but it's worth it for the confidence that whatever you do will not be noticed.'' Expansion plans include having someone present to ignore whatever it is you do with cash machines, expected to become the core of the none of their business.

There are controversies. Whisper Willows recalled over 400 private interactions last year, confirming rumors about what they were supposed to not be seeing got out. Company owners insist it was the work of a small band of ``gossips'' and ``busybodies''. However, there are no state or federal licensing guidelines for professional ignorer-ers, and some new hires have been put into customer's lives with as little as twenty minutes training and a thick book, a biography of General Douglas MacArthur which will never be read. Clearly, work on industrial-quality privacy is not finished. Arline Griffiths of ShooshCom believes there are people who routinely carry two wallets. This is not a value judgement.

Trivia: In 1884 Sapolio soap spent $28,000 for advertisements. Source: Advertising and the Transformation of American Society, 1865 - 1920, James D Norris.

Currently Reading: Gold! The Story Of The 1848 Gold Rush And How It Shaped A Nation, Fred Rosen.

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