Boomers Enjoyed Some Level of Privacy

Recently Mister Boomer finished a book on his e-reader. That evening, he checked his email and discovered a note from the company that produces the e-readers. The email in no uncertain terms made it clear the company knew Mister B had finished reading that particular book. Now they were asking for comments and offered suggestions of new books to buy.

While on the surface this communication seemed innocuous, aimed solely at selling more books, it got Mister Boomer thinking about how much personal privacy and identification have changed since our boomer youth. Such a scenario as this book/email experience, if described to someone in the 1960s, would more than likely have conjured up notions of Big Brother and 1984.

In our boomer days, there wasn’t much of a reason for people to have personal identification, or worry about an invasion of personal privacy. Until the interstate highway system was completed, people of modest means rarely traveled great distances, and air travel had been too expensive for the average boomer family until the late 1960s. Until recently, there was no requirement for ID for purchasing bus and train tickets. Therefore, most boomer family members did not have a reason to possess a passport, which was the only ID that required a photo (a policy adopted in 1915 in the US).  Since the country has never issued a national ID, that left the state driver’s license as the primary form of identification during the boomer years.

Most boomers born in the early- to mid-era before 1960 will recall their first driver’s license not having a photo on it. While verifiable info on the subject is scarce, most agree it was the state of California that first started requiring photos on driver’s licenses sometime during the 1950s or ’60s. In fact, it was 1980 before every state issued a photo on driver’s licenses, the main form of personal identification that people use to this day to not only drive a motor vehicle, but to open bank accounts, buy liquor, vote and board airplanes.

Since the driver’s license was the primary form of identification, many boomers can relate stories of acquiring fake ID in order to buy alcohol at liquor stores and get into bars and nightclubs because the minimum drinking age was 21 in most states. Without a photo, the licenses were relatively easy to counterfeit. A merchant, banker, or even a police officer only had a piece of paper with your name and address as proof of who you were.

After World War I the military saw a benefit in having photo ID for military personnel and contractors. But boomer boys had to register for a Draft Card at the age of eighteen, with neither the application nor the card having a photo ID requirement.

Think about how much has changed with the telephone since our boomer days, too. Many boomers, including Mister Boomer, remember having party lines where a phone line was shared with neighbors. Unless you recognized the voice of the person speaking when you picked up the receiver, you did not know which neighbor was on the phone. Increasingly, movies and memories are all we have to remind us that when the telephone rang, first of all we answered it — which is more than what can be said today — and second, we asked, “Who is it?” We did not know who was calling. Caller ID wasn’t readily available until the 1980s. Today, Mister Boomer’s own Brother Boomer won’t answer his call unless Mister B punches a code into the phone so his identity is revealed on the other end. Mister Boomer himself, not possessing caller ID on his landline, won’t answer the phone any more since so many calls are merely ploys for advertising, despite registering the number with the government’s “do not call” list.

Holy personal identification! Talk about identity and privacy issues!

Now, thanks to digital technology, merchants and banks can get a complete record of your bill payment history; your state can see not only where you have lived, but if, when and where you voted; how many traffic violations you have had, and how many you’ve paid or owe; whether you have been arrested and on what charges, and more. Nanny cams let us keep tabs on what is happening with our children when we are not there. We even spy on our dogs.

The Internet has really changed the picture of personal privacy and identification. Virtually every company collects data on the visitors to their websites, more often than not by placing cookies. These kernels of personal intrusion are embedded into your computer or phone for the sole purpose of reporting your actions back to the company. Most often, they want to track where you go on their websites, how long you spend on a particular page, and in particular what merchandise you have shown an interest in. Some go much further, and acquire information of what websites you visited before landing on theirs, and where you go after you leave. And that is just the beginning of what they now know about you. We now know that individual accounts as well as those of companies and governments have been breached on numerous occasions.

Mister Boomer knows other boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennials who say this is all no big deal, because it provides them convenience and speed. Others, like Mister B, are appalled at how easily we offer up our daily interactions. In our lifetime we have gone from very little fear of an invasion of personal privacy to one of constant surveillance online and off, and constant requirements of personal identification. There is always someone or some thing that is now tracking your daily moves. Whether this is for nothing more than simple buying and advertising transactions, police safety or something else, Mister Boomer can’t help but wonder what all that info could do in the hands of someone intent on nefarious actions.

Certainly we cannot put the technology genie back in the bottle, but Mister Boomer asks you how you feel about it all, after growing up in a world where people generally only knew what you told them about yourself, to what we see now. Where do you stand on personal privacy, boomers? Are you enjoying the technology and using it to your best advantage or have you paused to remember the words of George Orwell in 1984:
“The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.”

By the way, Mister Boomer does not collect any personal data on this website whatsoever. We want you to enjoy a few memories, and nothing more.