Boldface Names, Telltale Texts

More
76013.jpg

The Philadelphia Inquirer's John Timpane reflects on celebrities, cell phones, and indiscretion:

Technology has changed the nature of the illicit affair. It's astonishing, frankly, that people in the public eye would ever commit their passions to cyberspace at all, ever again, in light of what has happened with e-mails and text messages lately.

Are the alleged affairs of Tiger Woods and other celebrities and politicians only the latest instances of perennial, imperious passion? Are cell phone just the latest avatars of the paper phone bills of a half-century ago that have driven key episodes of Mad Men?

My friend James Katz, professor and director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Rutgers University, observes that "people -- especially when deeply engaged -- simply aren't aware of background processes in their electronic technology . . . or for that matter, in their brains." {sorry for this omission and other initial typos -- ET]

Of course there's another explanation, that the possibility of discovery is part of the thrill, not that people necessarily want to get caught but that risk is a feature as much as a bug. And an encrypted phone would only fuel the suspicions of an already troubled partner.

The solution for some of the privacy activists I've met is to make strong encryption a norm. Until it is, those who encrypt messages might well be attracting the kind of government scrutiny to which they object so strongly -- what do they have to hide, anyway? But if almost everybody encrypts e-mail, text messages, and other information, the stigma is gone -- in domestic situations, too.

I'm doubt that revelations will lead soon to any real change. Electronic device makers don't want to deter sales with required extra security procedures. Even many corporations seem to be more productivity- and less protection-oriented than they once were. Wired recently quoted one of them former CIO in an article, "Hacker Says iPhone 3GS Encryption Is 'Useless' for Businesses":

"Your organization has to be culturally ready to accept a certain degree of risk," . . . ."I can say we've secured everything as tight as a button, but that won't be true.... Our culture is such that our general manager is saying, 'I'm willing to take the risk for the value of the applications.'"

Governments everywhere demand the ability to Hoover (in every sense) files, recent campaign rhetoric to the contrary. And new generations of cell phone users seem to be no more discreet than their elders. Has our behavior been changed less than we suppose by new communication modes? And is it easier to catch a careless cheater but harder to detect a clever one?

(Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)


Jump to comments
Presented by

Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center and holds a Ph.D in European history. More

Edward Tenner is an independent writer and speaker on the history of technology and the unintended consequences of innovation. He holds a Ph.D. in European history from the University of Chicago and was executive editor for physical science and history at Princeton University Press. A former member of the Harvard Society of Fellows and John Simon Guggenheim fellow, he has been a visiting lecturer at Princeton and has held visiting research positions at the Institute for Advanced Study, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy. He is now an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center, where he remains a senior research associate.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

A Breathtaking Tour Above the Moab Desert

Filmmaker Ian Cresswell rigs an HD camera atop a remote-controlled "octocopter" for some spectacular aerial views.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more

Video

Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.

Video

What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

From This Author

Just In