11.9.04

The death of privacy?

last month, Tom Watson blogged about a series of events that led him to reflect onPrivacy and Revelation. His comments about how easy it is to get medical information that should be private reminded me of when I was in hospital a few years ago - I could wander the halls and get a sense of what was going on with almost every patient on the ward. There was no check on who my husband and parents were, just an assumption that if they said that they belonged to me they did, and therefor had a right to know how my care was progressing.

However, I don't think that the spate of "here's my story about (depression/mental illness/personal trauma" books is related to a lack of privacy. It's more a death of the concept of the personal, and what belongs in that space. Too many people are used to this public airing of personal woes, thanks to the likes of Phil Donohue, Dr. Phil and Jerry Springer. We've become a culture of public confession and it's expected for us to grieve, rant and deal with life in front of whomever is watching. Even people not directly related to an event can get in on the act (think about how many times have you seen the neighbor down the street interviewed on tv, saying "I had no idea that Johnny was a serial killer, he mowed my lawn just yesterday!").

There is some value to raising awareness, as Katie Couric did with colon cancer. Presuming, however, that 'everyone' wants to know about the ups and downs of your moods... of course, this is a serious case of the pot meeting the kettle as I'm presuming that anyone actually cares about my opinion on this.

But the larger point, the one about the death of privacy, is valid and worth pondering. We assume that we have a veil behind which people cannot peek, yet we allow that veil to be pierced all too frequently. Even JD Salinger has a paper trail now.

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