Thursday, December 23, 2004

Inside voices

There's probably something a little strange in blogging about the loss of privacy in contemporary society--after all blogging is often little more than sharing what would otherwise be private thoughts and private facts about one's life in a very public form. In blogging though, the blogger has the ability to edit his thoughts and to decide just what should be shared and the reader makes a choice to read (or not read) the blog. A blog is a loss of privacy, but a negotiated loss of privacy.

That's not what happens now on the bus or in the grocery store when the person in the next seat or comparing prices of different canned vegetables is talking on the phone telling her interlocutor and everyone within 20 feet what her doctor had to say about her bowels or her cousin's recent run-in with the law.

It's also not what was happening two nights ago when I went out with my partner and my mother, who's visiting for Christmas. From the time we started eating our appetizers through the meat and the dessert, a group of high-school friends somewhere near my mother's age, regaled each other, us, the entire restaurant staff and all the patrons with tales of how well and badly their marriages were going, which of their children don't respect them, and in just which ways Mary Magdalene is superb--I will be much happier when people get over the badly mixed mish-mash of ancient Gnosticism and long-lived conspiracy theories so tragically publicized in The DaVinci Code and so well lampooned in Eco's
Foucault's Pendulum more than a decade ago.

I guess my problem is that where I was raised, most people had two different sorts of voices: one public and one private. The public one is the one that you use when you are teaching, preaching, otherwise declaiming or warning little old ladies that a Mack truck is fast approaching. The private one is the one that you use when you are talking to friends, on the phone where someone might hear you or discussing matters better kept to a small group of friends.

Whether it's the current ability to have phone conversations no matter where you happen to be or the way that people share every intimate detail of their lives on daytime television, it seems that much of society has lost the ability to be discreet. And yet, for some reason, when someone is talking about what they caught their husband doing and talking about it so loudly that I can hear it 10 feet away, they still become offended when I stare and give them a sympathetic look.

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