Thursday, January 5, 2012

Private Parts

We live in a wonderful world.  We can text, email, facetime, and skype faster than ever imagined.  We are all connected someway, unless you have been under a rock in the past five years.   We gather friends on Facebook, not at parties anymore.  We all spend seemingly hours tethered to our laptops, desktops or iPhones. We twitter our lives away. We get nervous if we are not in constant touch and often bring these electronic leashes on vacations and in cars. But it gets really embarrassing hearing the toilet flush in the background. I cringe that my children IM each other down the hall.

Are we too connected?  Are we too revealed?  Is there any privacy anymore? What exactly are we revealing? How do we  show that we are interesting and thinking people yet reserve something of our privacy?  I find it ironic in a world that people “sext” and yet get anxious when their medical records are compromised. But we reveal what we want to reveal. So maybe we are not truly electronically connected at all?

All of this technology involve “screens”.  My laptop, home desktop, iPhone etc. have them.  Public bulletin boards that we paste things onto but hide behind. We can hide a lot through screening. Hell, I have never put my recent picture on Facebook and have made quite the joke about it.  I am running out of google images of funny looking old ladies. We put up what we want people to see, what we want them to hear. 

As a kid, I lived in an apartment house.  We knew everyone’s “business.” Everyone knew exactly what the other’s rent was.   We knew Mrs. Johnson next door was a kindly older lady, a retired schoolteacher in fact, who welcomed watching us children. We knew the Bernstein’s across the hall and how the mother used to yell at  her daughter Susie and cook the most awful smelling food.  We knew May on the second floor had a disabled adult daughter. We knew the couple who had a child “Martin” and how they incessantly commanded him to do the most menial tasks.  Their yelling would echo in the inside courtyard. We knew the Schluzberg's had one saint of a son but the other was a “bum”.  We knew how to communicate distaste for the noise of another neighbor through banging on pipes. We knew that  the DeMonte's were a perfect Catholic family with 6 children who lined up perfectly according to size to parade to church on Sunday. I knew how a girlfriend’s father came home every night at 5:30pm in a trench coat and wondered why he suddenly didn’t come home one day.  We unfortunately knew what that meant.

We even knew the neighborhood real “bum” "Mel” who used to canvas the trash for bottles and cans.  As kids, we always said hello to him despite the scorn of our parents. In fact we used to help him find recyclables even before it became fashionable.  He was kindly and always had a toothless grin. He sometimes traveled with a stray dog or two.  His skin was dark but with Caucasian features.  I wonder now if his coloring was secondary to longstanding liver disease. It's hard to diagnose with a forty-year retrospect. He would just smile and we would yell in unison  “Hi Mel.” And he would wave with one hand  directing a shopping cart with another.

We knew he would never hurt us. That's why we were so open to him. Always trust the instinct of children. Dogs, too.

I blog, Facebook, text but do not skype, twitter or facetime.  But what am I really revealing?  You can hide crying on carefully worded written humor. You can hide anger through someone else’s  poetry.  You can hide disgust in some snide remark.  You can’t do that on the phone or better yet in person. There’s a lot of lines between the actual lines and many things left unsaid. Real time is real time. But is there really real time online? 

I met my college roommate for lunch today.  It was great to hear her laugh again like coeds we once were on a Spring Break cross-country trip. Surprisingly there was no uncontrollable sobbing on my part. Truth be told, I hesitated agreeing to meet with her. Silly I guess. I can’t hide the aging.  I can’t hide the terrible
stories accrued over many years as I did to many friends this summer until the stories got too much to bear.
Wikipedia tells me that the word “privacy” is untranslatable in many languages. It may be translatable in English but I often wonder about its meaning.  Is anything truly private?  

Should it be?

Only from those who can really hurt you.

With the trust of a child,


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