Saturday, September 17, 2011

An Unintended Consequence of the Growing Obsession with Privacy

Over the last couple of years, what I think is a disturbing trend is emerging.  We (by which I mean the collective we) seem to have become ultra obsessed with privacy.

I understand that some things are private and nobody else's business, I get it, honestly.  You know there's a "but" coming don't you?

Once upon a time communities were like villages, everyone knew their neighbours by name, kids played in the street until it got dark.  My mum used to tell me I had to come home when the street lights came on.  You knew that Mrs Fipps at No. 22 liked a tipple and that trying to have a chat with her after 3pm was a pointless exercise because she was way too hammered by then to string two words together, let alone carry on a conversation.  But before lunch time she was charming and funny and nobody gossiped about her.

You knew enough to say "little Billy, I know your mother doesn't want you doing that so stop this instant or I will tell her what you are up to".  As a general rule this would put the fear of god in little Billy who would promptly cease and desist whatever undesirable thing he was doing.

The advent of the Global Village seems to have been the beginning of the end for the Local Village.  Suddenly we became obsessed with privacy.  Laws were passed.  In my job I often have new clients come in, provide me vague information about some insurance policy they used to have but don't know if they still do.  Try ringing the company and asking simply if policy XYZ is still in place.  They will tell you they can't confirm it or not because of the Privacy Act.  Which is actually garbage, the Act does not prevent disclosure of non-specific information but corporations are so utterly terrified of potential litigation that they have taken the letter of the law to places it was never intended to go.

The loss of local community and Privacy Act gone mad is not what saddens me the most.  What makes me incredibly sad is that my children and all generations that come afterwards are losing a priceless link to their own histories.  Have you ever gone through all your old photos?  Laughed at your hair or clothing, wondering what you were thinking and saying that the 60's/70's/80's has a lot to answer for?

My parents took photos of their kids as we participated in sporting activities, musical and theatre events or simply built sand castles on the beach or played on the swings at the park.  These photos are priceless records not only of our own personal history but also provide "archaeological" links to the past for generations yet to come.  Wander in to any historical society and the biggest part of their collection is old photographs.  They are a snapshot of time and place. They ARE history.

Recently my sister attended her grandchild's first dance recital and as extremely proud grandparents are want to do, took her camera so she could take photos.  Not only to show her friends and other family members who didn't attend but also to keep as mementos of that time. You see my sister and I scrapbook, we passionately believe that it is important to document our personal histories so for us these events are essential photography occasions.  She was told in no uncertain terms that photographs were forbidden for "privacy" reasons. 

My eldest daughter recently played in and won a basketball grand final and myself and some of the parents were taking photos.  Each of us was focused on taking pictures of our own children (I know my zoom was on because I was determined to catch a picture of my daughter scoring, so if you could see anything else other than other sets of hands I would be amazed).  We were asked to stop taking pictures for "privacy" reasons.

For goodness sakes, I am not all that fussed about the random person in the background of a photo and have no desire to delve in to their private lives (chances are I don't even know their names), I just want to take photographs of my children so that when they are older they have something to show their grand kids whilst they talk about what life was like when they were young and the things they accomplished in their lifetimes.

My parents have passed away and the only link I now have to my childhood other than my own memories (which will fade as I get older) are the photographs they took.  This is my history.  Please don't rob my children of the same right.  Lets get a sense of perspective on things and stop being so uptight about every little thing...before it's too late.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 11 - Ten Years On

Here in Australia, today is the 10th anniversary of the day the world as we knew it changed. Forever.

I will never, ever forget the moment those haunting images first assaulted my mind and challenged my sense of reality. 

My eldest daughter was just 7 months old at the time and was fast asleep in her cot and I was curled up in bed reading a book, when the telephone rang.  It was sufficiently late at night (almost 11pm) that a chill went through me as I heard the phone...nobody calls that late unless there has been some sort of tragegy.  Little did I realise the scale of the tragedy and that the horror was only just beginning.

I answered the phone with a sense of dread.  It was my big sister telling me to turn on the television, that something unbelievable had happened, a plane had flown in to one of the towers of the World Trade Centre in New York.  You see, at that time very little was know or yet released to the world's media about what was actually happening.  I turned on the TV and held the phone in one hand, the remote control in the other.  It was on every channel.  Smoke billowing out of the side of the tower in an ugly black plume.

I remember saying to my the hell do you accidently hit a building that enormous?  You can hardly claim not to have seen it or know it was there.  The next thought of course was, oh God, there were probably people working in those offices, what happened to them?  A million thoughts swirled around in my head in the blink of an eye.  Who was flying that plane and what happened, surely the pilot had a heart attack, stoke, some sort of something that rendered him or her unable to control the plane?  (At that point it was still being reported that it was a small plane and our assumption was that it was single occupant).

Then, horror of horrors we watched as another plane approached the second tower.  I think I said to my sister "here comes another plane and if it isn't careful it will collide with the building too".  As that second plane impacted the building, disappearing inside of it, I remember actually jumping like you do when you hear an unexpected loud noise.  Then the tears began as the realisation dawned that this and obviously the first was no accident, that people had done this deliberately.  Whilst my mind reluctantly accepted the what, I simply could not get my head around the why.

At some point I ended the call with my sister but I still do not remember actually doing it, I may have just hung up on her or her on me.  I sat and watched the horror unfold.  The one image out of all those awful images on that day that will stay with me forever and still now makes me feel sick to my stomach is the sight of people willingly flinging themselves out of the Towers, knowing full well that they are leaping to their deaths.  How bad must it have been inside those buildings that this was best option?  Human desire to survive is strong yet these people had no other option but to embrace certain death.

As our evening turned to early morning we watched, across the nation as those towers came down, seeming to fall in on themselves and then tumble in a huge cloud of dust and debris. 12 seconds that seemed to go on forever.  We all knew that there were thousands of people still inside, we all had watched as police and emergency services personnel tore inside and knew they were never coming out again.  I never thought it possible to grieve so much for people I didn't know but in hindsight I was also grieving for a nation, for the world and innocence lost forever.

By this time we knew that these were not light aircraft, that they were passenger planes full of people going about their lives, in a very wrong place at the very worst time.

More and more images and stories bombarded our minds and hearts, the Pentagon and the fourth plane which slammed in to the ground, short of its target and instinct told me that in this case, brave men and women had managed to somehow fight back, sacrificing themselves to prevent even further loss of innocent life.  What must it have been like, knowing your life was about to end and there was nothing you could do to prevent it?   Making those calls to loved ones, saying goodbye?

There is more I would like to say, about the backlash against muslims everywhere, how the media is perpetuating the hate and mistrust but that is for another entry.  Today is for the men, women and children who died this day 10 years ago and for the families, friends and loved-ones left behind.

Rest in peace and may we all work to achieve peace on earth.