From public phone books to hummingbird drones.
For most of my life, my phone number and address could be found in the fat public phone book everyone received once a year. When I was a kid, we even had a “party line”—two short rings for our phone, one for the neighbors’. We didn’t listen in, but if we’d wanted to, nothing would have stopped us.
Before we had the internet, most of us didn’t worry about our privacy. Our lives were just naturally private enough. If we wanted to keep something to ourselves, we just kept our mouths shut.
Even now, most of the intrusions are not too bad. I bought a pair of shoes online a couple months ago, and now I get emails from the company every few days. I could unsubscribe, but … you know … I like their shoes. Maybe I’ll buy a pair of boots for winter. Or some slippers. Mine are looking worn. I really don’t mind those ads from the shoemaker. In fact, I’m glad they keep track of me and alert me to their sales.
I might have a different opinion, though, if someone sent a drone disguised as a hummingbird over my patio. Sounds like science fiction, right? Nope. AeroVironment has already produced one. (For more fun facts about other frontiers in surveillance, take a look at Matthew Hutson’s article in The Atlantic, “Even Bugs Will Be Bugged.”)
Elena Ferrante’s Loss of Privacy
Last month the New York Review of Books published an article about an Italian author whose real name was made public against her will. Ever since, I’ve been thinking about the tightrope authors walk and the contradiction they live.
In my blog of October 16th, I wrote about one small aspect of the outing of the author known as Elena Ferrante. I was interested then in the problem of authors writing about people different from themselves. Most people, on the other hand, were concerned about the author’s loss of privacy. Why, they asked, shouldn’t she be allowed to hide behind her pseudonym if that was her desire?
Indeed. Why shouldn’t we all be able to choose what to keep private and what to make public?
We writers are a strange bunch. Many of us are introverts, at least to some extent. You may not notice it because we also like to spend time with friends and family. We may even enjoy crowds on occasion. But you can’t be a writer unless you have the ability to spend lots of time alone, thinking and writing, just you and your laptop or pen and paper.
It can be frightening for a writer to show words to the world that were written in private. And yet, if the writer doesn’t publish, all that work will have been in vain. It’s like cooking dinner only to find out that everyone has already eaten and all your work was a big waste of time.
I understand why Anita Raja, who now is assumed to be the real Elena Ferrante, would want to use a pseudonym. Many writers would like to do the same, if only we could.
Or could we?
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Here are some quotes from Elena Ferrante from an article in The Guardian. They compiled the quotes from various sources before the events of last month.
“I don’t protect my private life. I protect my writing.”
“I’m still very interested in testifying against the self-promotion obsessively imposed by the media. This demand for self-promotion diminishes the actual work of art …”
“The fact that Jane Austen, in the course of her short life, published her books anonymously made a great impression on me as a girl of 15.”
“…what counts most for me is to preserve a creative space that seems full of possibilities, including technical ones. The structural absence of the author affects the writing in a way that I’d like to continue to explore.”
Do you have privacy concerns?
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P.S.- Maybe I should be more concerned about my privacy. Even though my phone calls and emails are pretty innocuous, I suppose a way could be found to twist my words. If I learned anything from the campaign of the past few months, it is to choose my words carefully and beware of hackers.