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.

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