Privacy, mobiles and my nan

Stuart Turton
23 Sep 2008

My nan hated mobile phones. Just taking one into her living room was enough to invite her rambling wrath, invetiably finished off with being called love in a tone that was more hand grenade than full stop.

 In my nan's mind a mobile phone was basically a cancer wand, the merest waft of which could kill a man stone dead. If she was feeling particularly vitriolic on the subject, she would then claim Doris next-door (which I genuinely believed was her full name until I was twelve or so) knew somebody who'd gone deaf using one, before delivering the coup de grace - a stunning exposition on how my mobile phone was pretty much everything that was wrong with the modern world, bar Genocide and Carrot and Coriander soup.

As you may have gathered my nan was no great loss to the world of reasoned debate, but that doesn't mean she wasn't right.  To my nan, and I suspect the majority of her generation, privacy meant something else entirely to what it does now. It meant keeping your problems in house, no matter what. Family problems never got much further than the living room, though they probably drifted into the back garden and over the fence on occasion. 

My nan never understood how we could so willingly take our troubles onto the street and discuss them on a mobile phone at the top of our voice, where any old stranger could hear them. It didn't matter whether they would care, only that they would hear. And, the older I get, the more I think she's right.

We all throw our hands up in the air and try to look horrified when Facebook or Phorm drifts anywhere near our personal details, but ten minutes on Oxford Street and I'm an intimate of so many lives that 20 minutes rooting around their sock drawer couldn't reveal anymore about them. Take my journey this morning, and the girl who's thinking about breaking up with her boyfriend because "J" has finally "made a move". If anybody wants to meet her she'll be meeting the mysterious "J" at a bar in Fulham on Friday. The night will be "wicked, innit". Or how about the woman in Tesco who's not heard back from her tenant in three weeks, and is heading over there to bang on the door. It's the "Islington one" apparently.

I don't understand how we can these wave these facts of our lives before us like incense on a daily basis, then claim to be so outraged when Phorm et al come sniffing around our browsing history. A part of me suspects that if Web 2.0 had been foisted on my nan's generation, we wouldn't have had any of these troubles. Facebook profiles would have been left blank, MySpace pages would gather dust and searches treated with so much suspision the entire concept would have died an almost immediate death.

Maybe it's time we revisited the idea of privacy as a whole. Not just online, but in our real lives, too. If something's really that important to one aspect of our lives, surely it must that important to the whole.


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