Boldface Names, Telltale Texts

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)


Presented by

Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

Saving the Bees

Honeybees contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy. A short documentary considers how desperate beekeepers are trying to keep their hives alive.

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

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

From This Author

Just In