Friday, May 23, 2008


Sometimes you don't notice a debate when you are in the middle of it. We are in the middle of a massive conversation, and possibly also cultural swing, about privacy.

Over the years I have taken many funerals. It is used less and less as an accolade that the deceased kept themselves to themselves. As one Guardian commentator noted this week, his grandmother described the secret of a long and happy marriage as, 'He was never any trouble.' The wife in the kitchen and the husband in the shed equalled marital bliss.

Have we moved on? We are not yet content, as a nation, with ubiquitous identity cards or CCTV cameras, with being informed of all the stuff of each other's lives. Not yet. But becoming so? Maybe.

Many young people today make a huge amount of personal information and image available through Facebook and other social networking sites. I do too although I am not young. It is pointed out to them that they will have to live with the consequences. Should they achieve any sort of public recognition the embarrassing photos will be produced. It is a bit like the warning parents give about having bits pierced or tattoos painted. 'You will have to live with it for the rest of your life.'

But if we do change culturally then everyone will have a past on display and those we suspect of duplicity will be those who have wiped their pasts.

This blog is a site that anyone can visit. Five years of my past is available. Although I have learned to be careful about making others too clearly identifiable (my nicknames for them are not complimentary by and large) it tries to be the essence of personal vulnerability. My Facebook friends can copy that picture of me at that party, looking a bit worse for wear and before the cosmetic dentistry.

The details of my car lease, perhaps previously seen as a private matter, were discussed with my son on my Facebook wall. Does it matter? I don't mind but do you mind finding out things you might think I should keep private? I don't discuss my sex life. It is after all somebody else's sex life too and that person not only doesn't blog but doesn't read this one. 'I have to listen to him, why would I want to read him as well?' She didn't say that but I just imagined her saying it.

One indicator of people not yet embracing the public-domain is the amount of negative comments that are left anonymously. We like to rant but few of us are willing to own our rants.

I wrote details on my church blog recently of someone we needed to pray for. I was asked to remove it (and of course did). I have no problem with that and learned the lesson always to remember to ask permission before posting. But we don't ask permission before speaking so we are content to put information in the public domain and to have our information put in the public domain as long as it is the relatively sheltered public domain of people who know people who know people who... and do you see what happens? By then it seems simply to be a matter only of speed.

It is the nature of humanity (I think) to be a bit embarrassed by our past. I recall that the first thing babysitters used to do on our leaving the house was to get out our wedding photo album and have a good laugh. We laugh too now but don't mind you seeing the pictures.

What is 'Too much information?' Has a line been crossed? Am I too open? Would love to know what you think. Anonymously if you have to.

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