Giffords, Gabor, and the Evolution of Privacy

There used to be a time when things were private. Family dramas were kept in the family. Medical issues were not discussed. All of our trivial thoughts were only internal.

Along the long and winding path of history, things changed. People expected to know more. The keepers of information wanted to share more.

Today we hear stories of medical treatments, “that girl who knows who she is and what she did”, and so forth. Does anyone have a sense of privacy anymore?

Privacy and Fame

Recently, I found myself a little stunned with a couple of news items.

Nearly everyday since a gunman entered a Tucson Safeway and shot, among others, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, we have seen a news report about Giffords’ medical progress.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying no one should care about her progress. I question the way we are finding out about such progress. Doctors continue to talk to the media about her recovery. I’ve also seen stories about Zsa Zsa Gabor’s leg amputation.

Whenever I see or hear these stories, I wonder how it’s possible the doctors can share such information. It seems this is written off as “the public’s right to know.”

But does the public have a right to know?

Per HIPAA law, there doesn’t seem to be an exception given for public figures. Generally speaking, your health information is privileged information. The only people who are authorized to know about it are your health care provider(s), you, and anyone you personally authorize.

If you’ve been to a doctor, you might remember signing off on a privacy form. I remember a form asking me to list any people I authorize to know my private medical information.

Do notable people write “the world” on this document? Doubtful. Yet, doctors seem willing to share this information when it comes to famous people. I believe if the patient wants people to know of his or her progress, he or she will tell the public (or authorize a person to do this). If something happened to me, I don’t want my family members telling my co-workers and anyone within earshot how I’m doing unless I say it’s okay. The only exception I can think at the moment is if one becomes incapacitated and it will make him or her unable to work (especially if one is President). My medical status in that case is relevant to others…but only in the simplest terms possible. “Christine is no longer able to perform her duties for medical reasons.”

Perhaps some notable people have indeed authorized their spokespersons to tell the public of their progress. However, I think the public only needs to know the person is okay. If the patient wants the public to know more details, let the person tell people himself or herself.

Celebrities and politicians shouldn’t feel pressured to share medical or other private information. The public doesn’t have a right to know anything. A want, maybe. But hardly a “right”.

The Flipside

There also seems to be a problem with individuals oversharing their own personal information, especially interpersonal conflicts. Whatever dramas you’re having with another person (or people, if you’re an especially disagreeable person) should stay between the parties involved. I’m referring mainly to hardcore issues. I mean, “sometimes people suck”…okay, easy to ignore. “My boyfriend is such a jerk. He gave me a vacuum for my birthday. Who does he think he is?”…that should stay between you and the boyfriend.

Honestly, I think a sizable percentage of things that bother us are related to others’ issues being thrust upon us. I suppose some people don’t mind solving other people’s problems. I do mind. I believe most of why I am so calm and even-keeled is that I don’t load myself with other people’s problems.

(I may have been a psychology major, but I didn’t have much interest in therapy. I was a research gal.)

Also, I don’t think it’s appropriate to tell everyone (on your friends list) the details of your wild night. To me, hookups, drunken escapades, and the like are not public information. Share with your close friends if you must. But it seems socialy impolite to share widely. “I had a fun time!!” should suffice.

The Web

The documentary We Live In Public addressed a simple thought: As the Internet evolves, our sense of privacy will willingly decrease.

The film highlighted a social experiment from the 1990s which foreshadowed today’s society. People signed up to live underground in a created city where everything they did was on camera. From any TV located in the underground city, a person could “tune in” to any camera. It turned out the people were not shy about things they did when cameras were around. In fact, they acted seemingly less inhibited than they would above ground.

The conclusion: At some point, we would lose a concept of privacy. Information would be at our fingertips and people would not shy from sharing anything about their lives.

That point is now.

But just because you can share doesn’t mean you should.

Is privacy gone? Is it unreasonable to expect people to hold their cards closer to their chests? With the Internet and the news media on a 24-hour loop, it seems we’ve come to expect more information. We’re at a point where if a person doesn’t share information we want, we automatically think something is terribly wrong. What if I just want to keep my private life private?

Some people like to share the details of their lives. Fine. But you can’t assume others are the same way.

Maybe I’m an anomaly. I just believe most aspects of my life are not up for public discussion.

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