From toddlers to adults, privacy is understood as the freedom to be one’s self without being observed and disturbed by others. Privacy is solitude, not isolation. Every inner self needs time to reflect. In the privacy of our patio, porch or sunspot in our home we can do this without being observed. In 1965, privacy moved from introspection to morality. It became a legal right. Accepting the argument that couples have the right to privacy, a Supreme Court case ruled that married couples could legally buy contraceptives. In 1973, abortion was legalized. Under the right to privacy, many states allow minors to have access to birth control and even abortions without parental consent.
From morality, privacy has advanced to technology. Every user of a cellphone or computer is an income-producing customer. All personal information is a source of wealth waiting to be mined for profit. Part of any business is either protecting or pirating details of our daily lives.
These are facts and risks that we live with. We trust and go on. But when a friend from the past gets ill or passes away, the privacy dilemma hits us in the face. Phone books with home addresses are extinct. Businesses and churches are bound by privacy laws. For want of an address or phone number, we can’t send a card or deliver a casserole. We are deprived of our human need to personally connect. On the flip side, the intended recipient is deprived of that personal connection. Privacy resembles solitary confinement.
Technology both frees and limits us. We can start managing it with two words: Rolodex and Neighbor. Names, addresses and phone numbers can be stored in our cellphones and computers. My Rolodex phone file, cracked and grimy, has crashed to the ground many times. The contacts may be a tad out of order, but they are there. Computers that crash, cellphones that have to transfer information to newer phones, can not claim such full recovery. I intend to update information from my phone to “hard copy” or paper.
In addition to the phone file or an address book, some organizations provide basic contact information to be shared just among the members. These are necessary if we value personal connections. These papers will go in a protective folder and be stored with my Rolodex.
One of the most remarkable discoveries my adult children have made in their new communities is the “neighbor” element in the neighborhood. Two have moved into older areas. One tells of a garage sale venture that turned into an hour and a half conversation with a “senior” resident. He told the history of area houses and families. Across town a leaf raking project lured the “mayor” or senior member to the scene. He greeted the newcomers joyfully and loaned a leaf cart. His wife joined him and together they unfolded the tale of the scenic area and of each family home.
These neighborly visits drew my children into a solidarity more powerful and personal than any technical device.
Hutchinson may not rate as highly in neighborliness. “Cliquish” is a word I have heard on several occasions. It may be only half true.
Our first home was built in a farming area south and west of Hutchinson. It will always be home, not for the house, but for the specific acts of kindness of our far-flung neighbors. Never intrusive, never judgmental, they just cared when we needed it.
Closer to town the neighborly atmosphere dissolved. Privacy was standard.
The wildfire of 2017 and a suspicious vehicle touring the area gave me second thoughts on how absolute “minding your own business” should be. Recently an employee of a local business said, “I am your neighbor up the road from you. My number is here on this business card. My wife and I are here to help if you ever need us.”
There was the key!
Know who your neighbors are.
Be able to contact them whether they need you or you need them.
The definitions of privacy have doubled down on society both morally and economically. They are bastardized versions of the original, which defined an individual’s need for peaceful reflection without being scrutinized.
We can’t wait until someone doesn’t show up for a meeting or activity. If we care at all, we ask now to have their number and address. We store it once in the phone and back it up on the faithful hard copy address book or Rolodex. Maybe they’ll want ours in exchange. We cannot let privacy laws corrode our basic needs for community connections.
Jeanie Suter is a mother and grandmother in Hutchinson.