Public lives, private lives*

This article by the famous Cuban writer was published originally in Portuguese in the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo and has been reproduced in Spanish and English thanks to an agreement with IPS Cuba.

 

 

One of modern society’s values is – or should be – respect for the individual’s private sphere. Persons’ interests, their form of understanding diverse aspects of reality and existence, their individual tastes and phobias are estimated as arcane belongings that the social context should protect, as long as those personal preferences are not detrimental to the rest of the fellow citizens.

 

In a country like Cuba the limits of private life were frequently permeated, due to cultural reasons – that tendency toward the Gregarious of the Cubans – and even by political decisions that included from public voting by lifting arms to interference in sexual preferences, religious beliefs, the individual’s personal political opinions and that, placed on trial, could decide, for example, the labour or student development of a citizen. The so-called “verification,” which could be carried out based on the opinions of a neighbour, had the power of presenting a person’s strictly personal affairs which were made public and had an influence in the fate of individuals when they were not considered “appropriate” or “admissible” according to certain codes which did not include, of course, the Penal Code or any other written and endorsed code.

 

Perhaps that experience has made me be a categorical defender of citizens’ private affairs and spaces. Despite my profession, which constantly forces me to present myself in public, to express ideas and opinions, to be interviewed and criticised, I have fought to defend my privacy up to what has been possible for me.

 

News like the monitoring of telephone calls by intelligence agencies of politicians from other countries or parties or of simple citizens, the hacking of computers, the filtering of emails – which we all know can be checked by others – for me are especially detrimental to what I consider an inalienable citizen’s right to enjoy spaces of privacy.

 

All these concepts and realities have made me make an increasing effort to try to conserve my privacy. That is why, despite my being a writer and journalist, I have never had a webpage, the Facebook that appears on the web in my name is apocryphal and I have never managed a Twitter account. In those senses, I am strictly “pre-computerised.” I am an oddball, an anachronistic person.

 

Thus, my condition makes me react deeply when I know of how today people make public, voluntarily and festively, what someone like I considers private.

 

A while back, thanks to a friend, I was able to see the Facebook page of a former university classmate whose whereabouts I had misplaced. With astonishment I was able to see and read how he told about each daily event in his life – meetings, visits, experiences -, how he narrated part of his family history and…revealed details of his sentimental and sex life! Actually, bi- and homosexual (if the combination is possible). What mechanisms can drive a 60-year-old man to participate in that demolition of the private? Why should the meeting with a certain person have to acquire the character of a news item? It is true that the tendency toward exhibitionism and the desire for a protagonist role have always existed, but I suspect we have trespassed too many limits.

 

I know perfectly well that today the social networks are a privileged space for transmitting information, for interpersonal relations, for the search of complicities. I know that many young people and adolescents have grown up and live within that network of exhibitionism that attracts them like a drug, complements them as individuals. I also know how some use these means to denigrate, spy on, attack others, hiding behind cowardly anonymities and pseudonyms or using legal and illegal powers. I have read how all that information that some offer happily is used for creating their profiles that are not precisely those of Facebook, but rather other more sinister and dominating ones.

 

What is normal? I ask myself: having a Facebook profile or a Twitter account or the decision to not have it? Is my former classmate more sociable and modern or am I? At this point I truly don’t know. What I do believe that I’ll continue knowing is that the right to privacy is a valued good that must be respected by the powers – which are usually not too respectful – and above all the individuals, starting by themselves with respect to their own private lives. The rest, as the old saying goes, the rest is a jungle. (2016)

 

*Note:

After several months of not writing for the Corner, the author of La novela de mi vida returns to the fray to please his readers with this article originally published in Portuguese for Folha de Sao Paulo.

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