Where does your private lie?


Shared on Flickr by Richard Holt

It’s summer. You’re out in the backyard with your best friend, unloading about a stressful incident at work. Unbeknownst to you, your neighbor is listening quietly on the other side of your tall fence.

Ethically does your neighbor have the right to make public what he heard…just because he heard it?  Does the blame fall on you for having the conversation in the first place? And now are you accountable for the conversation…even though it was a private one?


Last week I read with a mother’s curiosity the top my daughter’s open Twitter feed. One tweet puzzled me, it was intentionally cryptic and this bothered me! Later that day I asked her about it. Her reaction was swift and certain: “Don’t creep me Mom!”
I did not respond at the time but went away to think about it. At first I thought I should absolutely read all her Tweets as a precaution to be cretain she is being appropriate out there. Later I began to consider if something is available to read (i.e. open) does it mean I should read it? I started to think that her Tweets are her private space, in the sense that I should not search them out just to read and just to gain information about her (if I was concerned about her I might go and read). She deserves her own space and the opportunity to develop an identity. She tweets with the assumption of some privacy.

It seems counter intuitive…open but private?

As we share and divulge more personal information with the world in digital spaces what can we assume is private? Are my DMs to peeps private, when I know how easy it is to leave Tweetdeck open and forget to close the DM column?  Similarly, when I talk privately to someone on Facebook is it ever really “private”…when often people stay logged into to their Facebook accounts on computers with multiple users.

Does easy access to personal conversations (I am not talking about banking, SIN, etc.) mean we should we live in a state of perpetual fear that someone might assess these, just as our neighbor might overhear a private conversation? Or do we begin to recognize that while information about someone might be accessible, it does not mean we must access it. Is this any different from the journals that I have written over the years?  I did not write them for a public audience and so I assume privacy.  These journals are private reflections, thoughts and conversations…yet the possibility exists that someone could access them.

Is private really more of a function of where the world decides to stop…being interested and stops looking? Is privacy more of a stance of respect and trust? How do we encourage private spaces that are open? Just as I might see someone praying or doing Tai Chi in the park, I recognize these as a private activity…even though they are out in the open. Or when people argue or discuss out on Twitter, these discussions are open but often times are private.

Just because we can access private information about a person does it mean we should?
Do we need to develop new understandings around degrees of privacy and the intention of privacy?

How do we grow spaces for ourselves where privacy is understood but openness and vulnerability are seen as healthy and are encouraged?

 “There’s nothing more daring than showing up, putting ourselves out there and letting ourselves be seen.” 
― Brené Brown

2 thoughts on “Where does your private lie?

  1. You’ve asked some important questions that few people consider regarding what is said and what is written about. As a parent, it’s important to understand what our children are doing and saying out in cyberspace. Until an individual has fully developed “forward thinking” it’s useful to do the thinking for your child and help them to consider how safe is safe.

    Schools and teachers are notorious for airing conversations about students where others can hear them. A friend overheard two doctor’s having a conversation on an elevator about a patient. She pretended to be the child of that patient and caught them off guard. They were very apologetic when she reveal that she wasn’t a relation, but a bystander who didn’t need to know what was said. I think that teaching the importance of using filters through any medium is important. We all need to be reminded. Hopefully, your blog will help do that for someone today-even in a “Pay it forward” capacity!

  2. Thank you for identifying and discussing these grey areas, Carolyn. There is often a lot to consider about ethics and boundaries when we dig deeper into this. Trust and respect are important in these discussions/debates about privacy – at all levels. For parents and teachers this seems to require on-going conversations and considerations as we learn alongside our children – physical and online spaces. Values will also be a part of these conversations and interactions with others.

    I struggle still with what to think about the inappropriate use of social media by youth (not that adults don’t use it inappropriately). How close do the comments they make online mirror what they would say in person? How do you know when things cross “lines” and need attention and support? I think they can explore and develop an identity without being inappropriate, but they need support from someone, I would think. I have seen some value for my own teens, but I am not convinced that it has been necessary for their growth – more like an option.

    Thank you for these questions to reflect on.

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