Off the Grid: Ron Swanson’s Battle Against Diminishing Digital Privacy

“If George Orwell were alive today, he would be wearing a vain smirk, waving around a box brimming with free copies of Nineteen Eighty-Four, a tragic twinkle in his eye,” (Russett, 40).

It’s true with the way things are headed it would seem that we all should be shaking in our boots. If I wasn’t already freaked out reading Preston C. Russett’s essay, A Contemporary Portrait of Information Privacy: Collective Communicative Consequences of Being Digital had me running around looking for a time machine heading back into the past. It is certainly a frightening reality that we no longer have privacy in the digital world. I think that for most, denial seems to be the only way to use computers and come away feeling okay. However, one man, the fictional Ron Swanson, takes a more active approach in the popular television series, Parks and Recreation.

For those unfamiliar with the show’s premise, it follows the life of a driven young woman, Leslie Knope, who works in the Parks Department in Pawnee, Indiana. Her boss, Ron Swanson, is far less driven and more focused on the demise of government and a return to simpler times when men built their own homes and hunted for their food. He is the one man willing to tackle technology head on.

In a recent episode entitled The Pawnee-Eagleton Tip Off Classic, Ron is shocked to learn that a copy of The Pennysaver addressed to him appeared on the doorstep of his new wife’s home that he moved into less than a month prior. As the episode continues, Ron attempts to do anything in order to “get off of the grid” but finds that it’s nearly impossible. He takes down all public photos of himself in local restaurants, gets ahold of his file at the pediatrician’s office, and takes his name off of his office door only to find that his coworkers recorded his journey on Facebook. He grabs the tablet and yells “Erase all pictures of Ron!”, which is accidentally made into a Vine that repeats over and over.

While it might seem that I’m simply taking this opportunity to discuss one of my favorite television shows, this episode is extremely reflective of the battle between users and technology as well as the data miners looking to make money off of our information. Through one man’s struggle to keep his information private, it is clear that this battle is fought in vain; there is simply no way to maintain privacy when it comes to the digital world. Despite Ron’s efforts, his image is immortalized on his coworker’s Facebook, Vine account and most likely his Twitter as well. Therefore it would seem that we are simply not in control of our image anymore.

Despite the show’s comedic approach to the concern with technology it is important to pay greater attention to what information we offer up freely. We may have little control over our digital privacy but we must pay attention to what changes we can make in order to protect ourselves and our information.

Source: Preston C. Russett (2011) A Contemporary Portrait of Information Privacy: Collective Communicative Consequences of Being Digital, Review of Communication, 11:1, 39-50, DOI: 10.1080/15358593.2010.504882

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