On the way back from a concert in Brooklyn yesterday we shared the subway with a well-known filmmaker. He’s one of those people who look ordinary enough to blend in with the rest of us, which is lucky for him. Still, he’s not anonymous. We know his name. We’ve seen his movies. We also did our best not to pay him special attention. That is, to let him have the form of privacy we call anonymity. Even if he is hardly anonymous.
I thought it was cool that he took the subway rather than a taxi. There was a woman with him, obviously a friend. They had an energetic conversation. His voice also was familiar. She got off one stop before he did, a couple stops later.
Our home base since ’01 has been Santa Barbara. If you hang out on State Street in Santa Barbara, or on Coast Village or Valley Road in Montecito, you’re bound to run into celebrities fairly often, since lots of them live there. The correct and courteous thing to do is ignore them: to pretend, as best you can, that they have not made the Faustian trade of anonymity for fame. I’ve known a few celebs in my time and without exception they’ve found being known to everybody mostly a drag.
This stuff is close to my mind these days because privacy is a Big Issue. See, online we are all celebrities to the advertising personalizers. That’s why sites plant cookies and tracking beacons in our browsers to follow us around like invisible paparazzi. Fixing it won’t be easy; but we will fix it, sooner or later. Simple courtesy demands it. And it is on simple courtesies that civilization stands.