When I finally convinced my skeptical mother to go online in the 2000s, she wanted an email address where she could never have her real identity tracked. She enjoyed the wordplay of email@example.com; it’s a wonder it hadn’t been taken already.
Mom’s head was in the right place around privacy. But sometimes we take security in the things we believe, over the things that are real.
The first time she showed me how she used a web browser, circa 2005 or so, I was impressed to see that she had Google as her home page, and that she could start from a query and proceed, via hyperlinks, through a fairly complex browsing session. Not bad for a child of the 1930s!
But then came that eye-opening moment when she moused over the Back icon in her browser and clicked it, over and over again, until she returned to her Google home page, where she — and I swear I am not making this up — highlighted her initial search query, then deleted it, before closing the browser.
She inferred that this protected her privacy — by “retracing” the steps she had taken, they must no longer be visible to those who would want to spy on her, she mused. And of course, that search term had to be deleted.
I never had the heart to correct her. Had I, she would have returned to being a digital recluse, connected to the world largely via landline, over-the-air TV, and — in what was an extreme alt-news source before the extreme became Breitbart and Breitbart became POTUS — shortwave radio.
Instead, she continued browsing that very way until her last weeks on Earth.
She wasn’t as private as she thought. But she was more connected, social. It was worth the trade-off, even if I may not have had the right to make that trade-off for her.