The Naked Society – by Vance Packard (1964) – part 1

If you’re like me, you assume that back in the “good old days”, people had much more privacy than we have now. Life was simpler before the technology boom of the 1980s, so there must have been more privacy. Then came the internet, RFID technology, computers, cell phones, smart meters, self-driving cars, and computerized appliances. Now most people are concerned- at least to some degree – about the diminishing amount of privacy in our society and in the world.

But back in the early to mid 1900s, there was actually a surprising amount of surveillance and gathering of personal information. Where was this coming from? According to author Vance Packard, the surveillance came from three directions: government agencies, businesses, and schools.

In the 1930s, polygraph machines (lie detectors) had become very popular. They were used by just about everyone, from prospective employers to life insurance agents to police departments. This greatly accelerated the loss of privacy for the typical American in the 1930s, 40s, and beyond.

Psychological surveys were also very popular. Several years before this book was published, Vance Packard tested the extent of surveys (the Form) by pretending to apply for a managerial position. Here is an excerpt from chapter 3 “How To Strip A Job-Seeker Naked”:

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