Whatever happened to privacy for its own sake?

No one has to tell you that it’s the information age. Most of our money is tied up in securities buried deep in our bank’s web servers. Our worth to society is tied up in a series of numbers, cards and passwords. When we talk about protecting that information, we call that privacy. But as we all know, we are more than our bank cards and social insurance numbers. We have likes, dislikes, experiences, and relationships. We can reveal those things on the internet to make new connections, justify our opinions, and even help ourselves professionally. But how much information is too much?

I want to introduce you to the Brazen Careerist, run by Penelope Trunk. She runs a consulting business instructing companies on how to attract and keep young workers. Her advice is counter-intuitive and controversial. For instance, she advised that new grads should involve their parents in their salary negotiations. After reading the site for a while it occurred to me that the blog wasn’t so much about her career as it was a pulpit for the drama in her personal life. I learned about her autistic son, her divorce and about how she stabbed herself in the head while she was undergoing post-partum depression. She writes less about her personal life these days, but you can bet she does so only under strict orders from her divorce lawyer. Penelope Trunk gained a lot of readers by revealing intimate details of her life. The only problem with that is I remember almost nothing about the advice she gives, and almost everything about the sordid details of her family life. It’s disconcerting, and it’s the reason I don’t read her blog anymore.

Am I alone in feeling a little sleazy when I hear intimate details of a person I don’t even know? Why can’t I get to know people on the basis of a well-crafted first impression? It’s not about decency. That term is so loaded and it is often hijacked by the stupid. I’m not against people having skeletons in their closet, but how would you feel if someone you introduced yourself to at a cocktail party started telling you about how they have inner-child issues?

Some people might say it’s a sign of the times. With all this technology to record our every move, why not put something up there worth watching? In an age of millions of competing voices, we have to do anything we can to maintain people’s attention. It’s Days of Our Lives, only it’s starring me, me, MEEEE! When we start airing our dirty laundry over the internet, we’re not only putting our shame on public display. We are essentially saying to the world, “there is nothing interesting about me besides the personal tragedy beneath this thin veneer of blandness.” Aren’t we better than this?

Now, I am under the belief that all of us have something to offer by blogging. We all have specific experiences that can benefit others. Keeping records of how we live is important in any society. We should, however, have things that we just keep away from the public eye. Our secrets make us unique, and revealing them is an important symbol of trust in friendship. If we do make them public, it’s so that people can learn from the mistakes of our past, not so we can temporarily soothe the emotional wounds of the present.

4 thoughts on “Whatever happened to privacy for its own sake?

  1. Melissa Quinn

    Missed the 20/20 segment but I agree with your point about revealing personal information. There are lots of things I just don’t need to know about total strangers or my closest friends for that matter. While strangers may lack that kind of discretion, my friends seem to have better judgment. I hope I exercise similar restraint. I don’t find temporary solace in the other people’s woes, as some people do. My life is not better because someone else’s life is worse.

  2. Pingback: Ode to Overshare – James Strocel’s Blog | www.James-Strocel.com

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