Back in the 1960s, a skeptical TV talk show host asked comedian and social activist Dick Gregory how he knew the government had tapped his telephone line and was listening in on his private calls.
“Because I haven’t paid the bill in three years,” Gregory replied, “and the phone is still on.”
The recent revelation that the government has been collecting telephone data on millions of us has caused outrage, primarily from residents of Neverland who naively claim they didn’t know the government would do that.
Like them, I was aghast – no, shocked – no, mildly surprised – no, not surprised at all – upon learning our private moments may not be so.
That’s why a buddy called last week in mock distress, wondering if the National Security Agency might be listening in on our five to 10 telephone conversations a day.
He wasn’t worried that we’d be connected to some plot to overthrow the government. He was more concerned that someone might hear us debating – as we are wont to do – such compelling topics as “Why didn’t Elly May and Dash Riprock ever marry on ‘The Beverly Hillbillies?’ ” Or “Who was the bass player for Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes?” Or “Which one was England Dan and which one was John Ford Coley?”
Those are all, sadly, actual conversations he and I have had. Even before the latest contretemps about our big-eared government, we had fretted over what someone would make of our encyclopedic conversations about Broadway musicals and which soul singer knows she’s too big to be wearing that little bitty dress at her age.
One substantive conversation occurred, though, when another pal, a Vietnam vet, called and said “If the NSA is listening in” – and then unleashed a string of unprintables about “Hanoi Jane Fonda.”
For most of us, though, if President Barack Obama visited our cribs with a tape recorder – after all, he’s personally sitting there eavesdropping on us, if you believe Fox News – and replayed for us a week of our phone conversations, we would be mortified by the mundanity.
President Obama: Say, dude. If you’d ease up on some of those 1-900-CUTIEPIE calls, that right there would take a chunk out of the national debt.
Most of us, like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have no problem with the government having access to our phone records in the interest of national security. After all, we’re not likely to call up a cohort and ask, as one alleged terror suspect did before he got popped, how much goober dust or whatever we’re supposed to put in a bomb.
So chill, homes. We’ve been living under constant surveillance for years. By a show of hands, how many of you are afraid to scratch or adjust when you’re walking down the street, lest it end up on the Internet?
Not only that, but purchase anything online – a book, a CD, a vacation – and your mailbox will be flooded with similar offers for the rest of your life, proof that somebody’s monitoring you.
When you go to the grocery store and use one of those savings cards, your purchases are being monitored so you can be microtargeted with coupons and offers.
That’s why, years ago, I traded cards with a woman, no doubt confounding whoever is Big Brothering us and making him scratch his head and go: “Why is that guy eating so much Activia and buying all of those Lady Gillettes?”