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Blurring the Lines (What’s Private These Days?)

January 24, 2011

When, exactly, did we start blurring the lines between things that should be kept private and things that are ‘okay’ to express or expose publicly?

Voyeurism is EverywhereOpen the newspaper, turn on the radio or TV, launch your browser, or go anywhere where people are carrying on conversations on a cell phone, and you are bound to see and hear things you really, really, really don’t want (or need) to know.  And instead of turning it off or tuning it out, an unbelievable number of people actually seek out and engage in these voyeuristic activities.  I suppose they get some kind of vicarious thrill out of seeing, hearing (or ‘experiencing’) the deepest, darkest secrets of everyone from the most famous of celebrities to their next door neighbour, but I just don’t get it.  Does it make them feel superior? ‘In the know?’ Part of some special club? Or is it just pure, unadulterated nosiness? Personally, I think it’s all pretty disgusting!

Let’s start with ‘reality’ TV.  We’ve got hoarders and lousy drivers, famous and not-so-famous bickering families, undercover bosses, wife-swappers, nannies who can fix whatever’s wrong with your kids, and DIYers who can’t fix anything.  We’ve got fat people who want to get thin, beautiful people looking for love in all the wrong places, brides screaming after the perfect wedding, and dog owners just barking to get their unmanageable pets trained.  There are people ‘stranded’ in exotic locales, whiners locked together in a mansion somewhere, and couples (hetero and homosexual apparently being the perfect mix) racing all over the world looking for obscure clues and a million dollar prize.  (And let’s not forget that all this is taking place under the glare of the cameras and by following any number of ‘unscripted’ plot requirements – there isn’t an ounce of ‘reality’ to any of it!)

Star WannabesAnd then we have the hundreds of thousands of people (not to mention a few has-been ‘stars’) – all of whom are completely lacking any kind of talent whatsoever – vying to be the next big singer, dancer, ice skater, etc.  The really sad thing is that on pretty much every one of these shows, the participants come across as no more than desperate, pathetic attention-seekers who have no self-respect whatsoever.  And if it’s a ‘contest’, the chances of being tagged as one of the ‘losers’ (vs. the one-and-only ‘winner’) – are pretty high.  What kind of crazed individual does that to him or herself? And why do people watch it?

I’m sure the idea of getting your ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ has something to do with people’s eagerness to expose their (often pathetic) lives for public consumption.  But what I can’t understand is the eagerness with which the masses have flocked to shows that feature the professional and personal problems, foibles, lifestyle, and child (or pet) rearing deficiencies of others.  I mean – honestly – what have we come to that this is considered ‘entertainment’?  (I often wonder – as I scroll through 200+ channels of shows I wouldn’t watch if you paid me – why I’m paying $50 a month for cable when I invariably end up slipping an old DVD into the player most nights in order to actually be entertained.)

What's really newsworthy?The desire to ‘have your sorry story heard’ has even spread to newspapers.  The other day, our local paper featured a front-page story (complete with fetching photos) about a teenage girl suffering from a rare auto-immune disorder.  The article described her condition, her treatments, her personal struggles, and her mother’s fears.  It might have been a touching article (although why one child’s medical struggle and request for financial assistance would, to the newspaper, be considered ‘newsworthy’ – when there are hundreds of others suffering from medical problems of every type and severity – is really quite beyond me) if it wasn’t for the fact that the mother deemed it necessary to state (and the newspaper thought it relevant to print) that she is a recovering alcoholic, living at her sister’s home, suffers from depression, is unable to hold down a full time job, is divorced, and has a meagre (government-supported) income of $2,000 a month (‘which includes child support payments from her ex-husband’’ – who I happen to know is the caring and very involved father of the ailing teenager, but who is barely mentioned in the article). 

Why was the mother’s history and status considered relevant (and, again, why did the newspaper choose to feature this particular individual’s story)?  Is she looking for sympathy for herself as well as her daughter? (Sorry – not from me!!) Was she looking for offers of additional support (beyond money to pay for her daughter’s medications)?  Or was it just the paper’s way of spinning the whole thing into some kind of ‘hard luck story’?  In any case, I was personally offended by the article (I can feel for the child, and for her parents, but – as I said earlier – there are lots of people in similar situations and they aren’t begging to have their story told – or asking for money – on the front page of the newspaper!)  I would urge that woman to have some dignity and some self-respect – and set an example for her daughter!

Social Media Privacy Isn't PrivateAnd what about all this ‘social networking’, eh?  People put all sorts of things (personal longings, family secrets, rages against anything and anyone, sexually suggestive and/or just-plain-inappropriate photographs and/or videos, etc.) online and then act surprised (or not) when people they didn’t expect to see them – see them.  Trust me, EVERYTHING you put online can be viewed, copied, and redistributed (and just because you press the ‘delete’ button, do not – for one minute – think that there isn’t a back up somewhere; every digital environment is backed up regularly and you have no idea who has copies of what you thought was your ‘personal property’ – in the online world, there is no such thing!!!!!)  Here’s a good guideline – if you wouldn’t want your mother/ father/ grandmother/ grandfather (or children) to see what you’ve posted online (or sent by text, email, etc.) DON’T PUBLISH IT!!!!  And, yes, employers and potential employers can – and do – find information you posted under ‘friends only’.  You’d be surprised how many companies hire individuals to impersonate ‘young people’ online (sometimes complete with fake photos) and sign up as ‘friends’ of potential or current employees for the sole purpose of discovering as much as they can about them.  (And while that might be immoral, it is NOT illegal!)  How many of your online ‘friends’ do you really know (i.e., would recognize if you saw them in a public place; could carry on a face-to-face conversation with about their likes and dislikes, employment, etc.)? I bet you actually ‘know’ less than 20% of them – that’s the ‘average’ for most people.

Cellphone users are everywhere

Finally, I absolutely must address that most appalling and ubiquitous device for the sharing of one’s inner-most secrets – the cell phone.  No matter where you are, or how much you try to ignore it, you can’t help but find yourself being forced to listen to (one side of) dozens of conversations every day being conducted by people you don’t know (and don’t want to know).  Honestly, why do people think it’s appropriate to discuss the results of their colonoscopy, divorce proceedings, business meetings, affairs, paint chip choices, grocery lists, granddad’s prostate, and the colour of their children’s poop (not to mention any number of other personal matters) out loud in a public place?  Save it for when you are alone (and preferably at home, not in your car going a hundred kilometres an hour down the highway).

We (as a society) have reached a sad, sad state where we’ve forgotten the sacredness of privacy, chosen to forgo common decency for the ‘need to know’, and developed an insatiable appetite for ‘news’ that has driven us to blur the lines between ‘private’ and ‘public’ information.  It is NOT our ‘right to know’ everything about everyone – and we really, really shouldn’t even want to!

My private life is private. The parts I share (with my family and friends, or on this blog) are those aspects that either help people better understand who I am (and why I write), or are already public knowledge.  If you want to know more about me, well, you’re going to have to get to know me a whole lot better.  Because I am never going to ‘bare it all’ on television, over the radio, in the newspaper, on the web, or over my cell phone.  And, honestly, my life isn’t all that rockin’ anyway, now that I’ve reached … the other side of 55.

My Life is Private

Please, learn to mind your own business!

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