You say Public, and I say Private.
Boidem column No. 29 dealt with the issue of loneliness on the web.
(I liked the Eleanor Rigby title, but I admit that I was tempted to call
it The Loneliness of the Long Distance Web Surfer.) A sub-text of that
column was the issue of how our society has blurred the boundaries between
the public and the private spheres in our lives.
Two reactions arrived about that column. Perhaps paradoxically they
accent the blurred boundaries I've already referred to. They do so not
because of their content, but rather because of who they're from: my brother
Why would siblings carry out a discussion
between themselves on web pages? (Yes, I admit that we aren't exactly carrying
out a discussion, rather I'm transferring an e-mail discussion to a web
page, but the original catalyzer for the discussion was a web page.) In
a world with more distinctly defined barriers between the public and the
private we'd probably sit down and speak face to face, and since geographically
that's not a possibility, letters are a fine substitute.
And of course if we're dealing with catalysts, most of them are probably
public: a television program, a book we've read, an item in the news, so
ultimately the only thing that's changed because of the internet is the
fact that Libbe and Mark's little brother takes their private e-mail correspondance
and hangs it up on a web page, inviting others, friends, acquaintances,
readers, (even lurkers?) to join in.
focused on the extention of the private into the public and asked whether
the opposite wasn't the case as well:
On the other hand, we have also been expanding the reach
of the public into our private spaces, and this came first.
Libbe relates to the issue of loneliness, of alienation, and while doing
so also relates to questions of privacy, and, I might add, uses private
cues and allusions for expressing, encapsulating, thoughts:
Newspapers were originally posted in public, then home
delivered. Later we got radio, etc.
Your piece made me think of a conference I went to a
few weeks ago on loneliness. The keynote speaker (a friend and former supervisor)
talked a lot about the steadily increasing alienation in western thought
and society, beginning with Descartes' putting the cart before the horse.
Rather, we think because we are, ie we are meaning-making creatures, which requires interaction (George Herbert Mead), so less interaction
leads to less meaning, ie alienation from self as well as others. Interaction
via computer is way better than none, but pretty one-dimensional. What's
missing in particular is emotion, visual cues of feelings, faces. Which
makes for a kind of flatness in a person, a lack of internalized others, clinically known as 'schizoid.'
Since I don't really have any more family, any continuation of the discussion
will have to be from a wider, more public, sphere of acquaintance. Who's
And, that kind of isolation and privacy are often necessary.
New York subway and street etiquette requires avoiding eye contact - hordes
of people in close proximity allow each other personal space by averting
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