Did ATMs Represent The Dawn of the Digital Era? | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Did ATMs Represent The Dawn of the Digital Era?

Play associated audio

Sometimes history stares you in the face, and you look in the wrong direction.

As a young reporter in the late 1970s, I did stories about some of the first Automatic Teller Machines as they came into use. Most of my stories bore in on the concerns that seemed most urgent back then: will people trust getting money from a machine, not a person? What if you ask the machine for $50 and it spits out $20?

Today, those worries sound as antique as wondering if the Iron Horse would put a lot of blacksmiths out of business; which I guess the automobile did.

What I did not foresee — and I don't recall that any of the truly learned persons I consulted did, either — is that the instantaneous inter-connectedness of the ATM would portend, before mobile phones and laptop computers, an age in which we scatter trails of personal information each day; even each hour.

Make a call, get some cash, check the news, buy a pair of socks, ride the subway: lights, cameras and microchips record it. You don't need to be a government security agency to discover what pills we have in our cabinet, the route we take to work, who we call, what we had for lunch, what we're buying to read, even if the book just sits on the kitchen table (or, increasingly, in digits), what size socks we wear and what color. And who our friends are.

If you post a note on a social media site to say you're rooting for the Blackhawks or Spurs, the next site you visit may have ads for their caps and T-shirts.

You might be startled to first notice that you're being tracked by retailers, and who knows who else. But if we're going to live in the real world these days, that includes the World Wide Web. It's a crime to open someone's mail, but not to follow what they say and where they go on the Internet.

Has what we mean by privacy changed in the digital age? A study by the University of Southern California's Annenberg Center conducted in April — before stories broke about the National Security Agency collecting cellphone and Internet records — found that people between 18 and 34 are markedly less bothered by the idea that their every click leaves a trace.

"Online privacy is dead. Millennials understand that, while older users have not adapted," said Jeffrey Cole, director of the Annenberg Center for the Digital Future. "This demonstrates a major shift ... there's no going back."

But is that the way we'll want to live in the future — susceptible to suspicion because of what we read or who we know? As a noted expert on privacy, Greta Garbo once wrote, "I never said, 'I want to be alone.' I only said 'I want to be let alone!' There is all the difference."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Art Beat With Lauren Landau, July 24

An aromatic exhibit turns art into eye candy and a new play explores a salacious mentorship.

NPR

With Help From America's Test Kitchen, Why Buy When You Can DIY?

Morning Edition host Renee Montagne talks to America's Test Kitchen's Chris Kimball about foods that are easier than you'd guess to make at home. Fresh Nutella or kale chips, anyone?
WAMU 88.5

Congress Unlikely To Approve Plan On Immigrant Children Until After Recess

The political response to the tens of thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children in the country is largely split along partisan lines, and legislation is not forthcoming.

NPR

A Plan To Untangle Our Digital Lives After We're Gone

In the digital age, our online accounts don't die with us. A proposed law might determine what does happen to them. But the tech industry warns the measure could threaten the privacy of the deceased.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.