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Alec Baldwin is quitting public life because of smartphones, basically

Actor Alec Baldwin with wife Hilaria Thomas in 2012. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

In this week’s edition of New York magazine, actor Alec Balwin — late of “30 Rock,” American Airlines and roughly 300 other minor controversies — denounces modern media culture at very great length before delivering a kiss-off to “public life.”

He is done. He quits. He will no longer appear on “Letterman” or speak to the press. And the reason, in short, is smartphones — although Baldwin, in his 5,000-word rant, obviously makes it a bit more complicated than that.

Here’s Baldwin on camera phones:

It used to be you’d go into a restaurant and the owner would say, “Do you mind if I take a picture of you and put it on my wall?” Sweet and simple. Now, everyone has a camera in their pocket. Add to that predatory photographers and predatory videographers who want to taunt you and catch you doing embarrassing things. (Some proof of which I have provided.) You’re out there in a world where if you do make a mistake, it echoes in a digital canyon forever.

Baldwin on privacy in the digital age:

We allowed people privacy, we left them alone. And now we don’t leave each other alone. Now we live in a digital arena, like some Roman Colosseum, with our thumbs up or thumbs down.

And Baldwin on phones again:

There was a time the entire world didn’t have a camera in their pocket—the first thing that cell phones did was to kill the autograph business. Nobody cares about your autograph. There are cameras everywhere, and there are media outlets for them to “file their story.” They take your picture in line for coffee. They’re trying to get a picture of your baby. Everyone’s got a camera. When they’re done, they tweet it. It’s … unnatural.

“Unnatural”! To take a picture of a celebrity, particularly a wildcard like Baldwin, seems anything but. But as overblown and fogeyish as these complaints might seem, Baldwin’s criticisms are actually pretty legit. Smartphones and social media have, undeniably, eroded our sense of privacy and personal space. Twitter has shrunk the distance between normal people and celebrities. The viral news cycle has convinced everyone that they are/can be “citizen journalists” — and the journalist journalists, coincidentally or causally, have begun to follow suit.

Unfortunately, as far as large-scale solutions go, “retiring from public life” is pretty futile. People will still snap photos of Baldwin with their smartphones. Paparazzi will still treasure live-tweets of his activities. We’re not going anywhere, Baldwin — which means, neither are you. You can read Baldwin’s full story at Vulture.

Caitlin Dewey is The Post’s digital culture critic. Follow her on Twitter @caitlindewey or subscribe to her daily newsletter on all things Internet. (



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Emily Yahr · February 24, 2014

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