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Identity theft is one of the most difficult crimes from which to recover. Not only can it impact your savings and current wealth, it can jeopardize your future financial opportunities. And with largely faceless perpetrators who operate over the internet, even if its practitioners are caught there’s usually no sense of face-to-face justice.

You might think this would mean we’d take great pains to safeguard our very selves from discovery. Keeping our identities secret would seem to be of paramount importance.

Yet today, we often simply give it all away.

We are constantly handing out one of our most valuable possessions: our self.

We are constantly handing out one of our most valuable possessions: our self.

We introverts are generally better at keeping secrets about ourselves than others. For those of you who read my writing, there’s a fair chance you know (or can accurately guess) more about me than people I’ve gone to school with, worked with, or even grew up with. And there’s two main reasons why I don’t tend to share much about myself in person.

The first is that I’m honestly either shades of boring or insanely geeky, and I learned quickly at an early age that when someone asks, “What’d you do this weekend?” you should simply say, “Eh, not much, had a lazy weekend to myself.”

Talking instead about learning new physics, programming scripts to make your time at work more efficient, or playing video games about optimizing factories on alien planets is usually a good way to make sure no one engages you in small talk. (While this may seem like an introvert’s dream, I do love gossip.)

Pictured: my current setup in Factorio, a game that helps me feel like I have control over anything in my life.

Pictured: my current setup in Factorio, a game that helps me feel like I have control over anything in my life.

The second reason is simply that knowledge is power. Information asymmetry is where one party knows more about a scenario than another. This causes transactions to become stressful if there’s an advantage or perception of one. And all of this is particularly true if those scenarios are high-stakes. Ask anyone who’s bought a car or house recently how they’ve felt about going through the process, and if they trusted that all parties involved were representing themselves fairly.

Honestly, it’s probably a bit of a stretch to think that telling co-workers what I did on my day off means they have an advantage over me. But consider how quickly people can lose credibility when certain things about their personal lives leak into their professional lives. I don’t have any crazy skeletons in my closet or scandals to hide. Still, caution seems prudent to me.

The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.

The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.

Yet even for us introverts, technology has made it easier and easier for all of us to share things about ourselves. This is usually seen as a good thing: a way to keep in touch with relatives, a connection with friends across the country, or an opportunity to find new friends or dating partners.

Of course, it has its downsides. For example Facebook, as many know, allegedly limits what you see to mirror content you’ve previously liked or shared yourself. Combine this with the human tendency toward confirmation bias and you get the “filter bubble” phenomenon.

But what about the things you don’t know you’re sharing? Consider just a few staples of the technological world we live in:

  • Netcams that belong to customers who aren’t scrupulous about security settings are easily browsed through specialized search engines.
  • Based in part about where you are and where you’re going, Uber has changed their pricing to charge you more than someone else traveling the same distance at the same time.
  • The pharmaceutical industry aggregates massive amounts of medical metadata to better target sales of drugs to doctors and patients.
  • Companies can design their smartphone apps to listen for ultrasonic sounds you can’t hear in order to track where you are, what ads you’re listening to, and what stores you’re visiting.
  • Your laser printer embeds an almost invisible code in documents you print. This code may have partially led to the arrest of the perhaps ironically-named federal contractor Reality Winner, who is charged with leaking classified information about Russia’s hacking into the 2016 election.
  • A Connecticut man suspected of murdering his wife claimed an intruder was to blame, while the Fitbit she was wearing tells a different tale.

We’ve embraced the convenience granted by carrying around our own portable supercomputers and buying giant microphones that order us food when we’re hungry. (“Alexa, ask for double cheese.”) But we easily forget that technology is rarely ever—perhaps never—done without a profit motive. And if you don’t trust someone selling you a car, why should you trust faceless conglomerates beholden only to their shareholders (and to a lesser extent, government regulators who can easily be purchased)?

Even more troubling, don’t forget that technology’s pace is changing even more and more quickly. Telephones and radios began to reach most people’s’ houses after being around for about 50 years. But it only took about 30 years or so for nearly everyone in America to get a personal computer, and the Internet was adopted within 10. Smartphones became near-universal in about 7 years or so, and we’re now seeing advances in virtual reality technology, wireless electricity, and automated cars.

We may soon get to the point where technology’s pace overrides and overrules our human capacity to adjust to a changing environment. Futurists talk about the “Singularity,” a point in time where technology advances to the point of enabling artificial intelligence. Technology and society would become fundamentally and irrevocably altered. At this point, they say, there’s no way of predicting what the future could even look like.

But if the past is any sort of guideline, it’ll be even more intrusive, capitalistic, and surreptitious. Should that be the case, we all may need to get better at keeping secrets.

Scott Michael

Scott is an ISTJ with an MA, and is usually MIA or AFK IRL. Interrobang him and win a prize.

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