Friday, September 28, 2007

Where the Line Is Drawn: On Privacy, Boundaries, Snooping and Censorship

I want to tell you a story about my friend. Last weekend she had friends over to visit, hang out. These were new friends. The scenario was fairly laid back and relaxed even if the friends were new--a sub-cultural phenomenon common among young, single LDS adults. One of my friend's guests asked if she could get on my friend's computer and check email, surf around, the usual. My friend obliged. Her computer is placed in the general living space that everyone was hanging out in. A few minutes into the guest's computer session and my friend happened to glance over at her screen. And noticed that the girl was reviewing a drop down list of her google searches.

Ever since my friend told me about it, this has been crawling deeper and deeper beneath my skin. The sheer snoopiness of it was shocking to me! And I can't figure out why.

I admit it. When I go over to someone's house and use their restroom, I sometimes glance in the medicine cabinet. In analysis of this behavior, I realized there are
only two scenarios in which I snoop: it's the medicine cabinet of somebody I don't like very much/feel intimidated by and I want more dirt on them OR it is a male I'm interested in and I want more information on them. Anybody else and I wash my hands, check my hair and get out of there without acknowledging they own a medicine cabinet at all.

Medicine cabinet searches (hereto referred to as MCS) are quite enlightening. They provide warning. They are capable of great things, like evening the playing field. Take, for example, Wart Remover. Wart remover in the frenemy's cabinet=A SMUG & TRIUMPHANT EMOTION. (I'm petty, I know, but this really is somehow comforting).
A good MCS can reveal the brand name of that scent I sometimes catch on him=SOME TRIVIAL YET VALUABLE INFORMATION. An MCS can save me from sticky scenarios, also. Five different prescriptions for anxiety and depression=STEER CLEAR! So, snooping has it's good points. We all do it a little. I get that and I support it. In fact, I am perfectly okay with the fact that sometimes some people are going to look in my medicine cabinet. Yes, I own tampons. I even have been known to purchase these tampons, a bottle of pamprin and a pint of Ben & Jerry's and that's my sweat pants. But I digress. Medicine cabinets typically aren't an open book of information, they are a spot for clues.

So why I was so bothered by the computer snoop, I don't know. Is there an imaginary line somewhere that says this snooping is acceptable and this is not? And, if so, where is that line?

And here is where I expand the snooping idea to privacy in general. Because while my medicine cabinet is free game, my personal journal isn't. And while I say a lot of what I think and feel on my blog, I know that at any moment any person can view it, so I try and be conscientious and cautious of what I share. I censor. My students like to know about me personally, as well. Sometimes I share stories with them, but I keep other things very private: my dating life, my religion, my political beliefs and opinions.

And so I continued thinking why is it that the girl snooping through the computer is so invasive? And is privacy is a completely cultural creation? I know that a lot of it boils down to family preference. In many societies children and parents sleep in the same room together. In fact, it is not unusual in many cultures for the sexual act to occur in the same room the children sleep in. This just freaks me out--I walked in once and RAN out, dry heaving all the way.

And there are things that my family is down with that I've since learned other families might be shocked by. Farting is free game in my family. We do it and we laugh about it. And then we pull out the air freshener. I known grown adults who HAVE NEVER HEARD THEIR MOTHER FART IN THEIR ENTIRE LIVES! I am amazed by this because I don't think I've gone a day around my mother and NOT heard her fart (sorry Mom).

And then there's nudity. In my family, the best time I could talk to my high strung mother was while she took her baths. My mom is a fan of long baths in which she reads People Magazine and relaxes. During these times she was the most focused and the most relaxed. Talking to her at these times was easiest and it didn't phase me that my mother was naked in front of me. I'm a girl, she's a girl. She didn't mind, I didn't mind. I was there to talk and it seemed normal. But in come the boundaries--my brother never had the bathtub talks.

Which now extends my stream-of-conscious writing to the disclosure of information. Has anybody told you way more than you wanted to know? My friend once had a boyfriend that would call her and divulge details about his bowel movements. The optimum word here is "HAD" a boyfriend, because eventually that gets old. And while I like to know a lot about why people are the way they are, I get uncomfortable when too many skeletons in the family closet are aired out.

I wish there were a way to neatly wrap this all up, but my thoughts are just sort of swimming around in here and I hope you've gotten through it with me. I guess my way of wrapping it up will come out with the WHAT ABOUT YOU.

So, what about you? Why is it that these boundaries exist and where do we learn them? Why is X an invasion but Y is perfectly acceptable? And does anybody else feel a little shocked that the near-stranger searched around in my friend's computer? C'mon, people. You know that is kind of pushing it! So, what about you and privacy and boundaries and snooping and censorship. How much information is too much information--whether it be shared or snooped out?


Blackeyedsue said...

Deep Rookie, Deep. This is why I love reading you. You make me think.

If I had a friend snooping on my computer I would definitely feel violated. I will write journal entries in my Word cocuments and sometimes forget to delete them. There are somethings that I have done searches for on Google that I would consider private (mostly medical) but that I would feel like they know too much about me.

There is definitely a line. I used to sit on a chair outside of the bathroom my mil would use so that I could here when she was getting into my cabinets. As soon as I heard her open them I started banging around to see how long she would snoop for. She will still rearrange/snoop through my cabinets. Now I just tell her everything about my life. Problem solved.

We may have nothing to hide or we may have skeletons buried deep into our closets. I think it just comes down to it being our choice on what we share with others. Once they take that choice out of our hands, they are playing God of sorts. THAT makes me uncomfortable.

Oh,and on the nudity front. My girls and DH always walk in on me naked whether it is in the shower, me using the bathroom or getting dressed. I am totally used to it. DH, lucky dog, gets total privacy in the bathroom, the shower, getting dressed. Of course he never told our kids that mommy needs her privacy. Mommy is fair game. Mommy on the other hand has made it clear that daddy gets total privacy. What a double standard!

Alice said...

Can I just say...freaking people and their lack of boundaries! I too have been known to peak in a medicine cabinet, but for what? Toothbrush, floss, Mentholatum, face moisture? Big deal. Was it worth snooping?

As silly as it sounds, this computer/google search thing is invading to me too. I can rationalize it and think, so what. Does it really matter that someone knows I was in search of this or that? The truth is, yes! Snooping on my ocmputer...thats too far.

There is definitely a line. We could spend my whole day discussing where all my different lines are and why. I think the simple rule is, no matter how "so what" it may seem...MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!

AzĂșcar said...

I would be piiiisssed to see anyone looking at my searches, the NERVE.