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The Conversation: Do we live in a Post-Privacy world?


Film is meant to be a cathartic experience right? So I figured after work I’d relax with a good film. Naturally as a big Coppola fan and with his past gems such as The Godfather I assumed I wasingoodhandsandI’dbe enveloped in a world of fiction far removed from my everyday life, however that wasn’t quite the case.

As I work in the cloud security industry and as a self-confessed internet addict I’m only to aware of the threat of the net and I’m continually bombarded with articles screaming the privacy issues posed by social media, the security risks of non-filtered email and the increasingly worrying dangers of unprotected browsing. However it seems that security is an issue that is not only difficult to get away from in everyday life but even in the fictitious world of film.

My film of choice, The Conversation, was engulfed throughout with the issues and consequences of privacy and the dangers inherent with unauthorised knowledge.Ifound it so intriguing that issues of security and privacy related to the world of technology that we assume are something of a modern concern with our growing technological capabilities, were equally deemed important enough to star in aHollywoodfilm way back in 1974, one year before Microsoft reared its head and two years before Apple Computer Inc. was even born. Security at the fore of American consciousness

The Conversation on close examination is every bit as provocative as The Godfather on its take on ‘Americas crumbling morals’. The immediate cultural context of The Conversation was the Watergate scandal, when surveillance and dishonesty rose to the fore of public consciousness making the film almost eerily prescient. The central protagonist is pathologically obsessed with his privacy, ‘I don’t have anything personal,’ a signet ring and moustache the only evidence of personal vanity. Compare this with the increasingly personal information that people happily post online and share with complete strangers on social media sites on a daily basis. Although lack of privacy on such sites has been vastly criticised and social media giants such as Facebook have went to great lengths to assure and protect users, lengths that 100% support, I also think it’s worth considering the paranoia that can be created when privacy issues are taken to the extreme.

For example, in the film as Harry’s investigation, consumes him and eventually crumbles around him he is left with virtually nothing other than enveloping paranoia and his saxophone.

The faceless menace

The shift in corporate identity is often a neglected aspect in discussions of 1970’s America but ‘the corporation’ as grand manipulator is at the very centre of The Conversation. The film points towards the faceless menace of unspecified corporate control. Coppola uses the Embarcadero Centre in San Francisco, to great effect, capitalising on its vaguely fascistic architecture. The bare white walls of the building bear no logo or image to reveal the nature of the business. The actual horror in The Conversation remains unnamed and undefined just like the company and corporate big shots involved. Not unlike the faceless menace that spammers, viruses, malware and phishing scams pose to internet users, their privacy, their safety and their finances on a daily basis.

Unhappy ever after…

So what can we take from my evening viewing? Well to be honest I see two viewpoints;

  1. Security and privacy are not only practically important for safety purposes, but if we are to learn from the example of our protagonist… vital for our own sanity.

 

  1. An over-obsession with privacy and security can be as dangerous as neglecting it. Yes make sure you take all the regular precautions, and that you’re properly protected and follow guidelines when posting online but don’t take it to such an extreme that paranoia surrounds you.

 

Ok so it’s just a film I know… but it does prove the power and relevancy that security issues pose, across mediums and across the ages, in real-life and in entertainment.

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