The Toronto Star

On privacy and the ‘it’s all about me’ generation: Mallick

By: Columnist, Published on Wed Mar 16 2016

What is this creature called privacy? It’s not that we don’t value privacy, it’s that we can’t define it. Here are two strange things staring at each other face to face.

First, several people whose letters to the editor were published in the Toronto Star recently discovered the letters were online and searchable on Google. Whether out of regret or a misplaced belief in copyright, they asked public editor Kathy English to “unpublish” them, which she declined to do.

This made me laugh while filling me with anxiety. If only she had the power to fulfil such requests. Please delete my childhood, I would ask, that disastrous trip to Germany, a column I wrote in 2005 on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on eminent domain (I was wrong and I am sorry), my habit of eating cold wieners straight from the packet, every conversation I ever began with “I have something to tell you.” Un-happen it please. Secretize it all.

Second, Italian journalists are trying to hunt down the identity of the author of the famed Neapolitan Novels, who writes under the assumed name of Elena Ferrante. This is horrifying. She will be punished for the candour of her astonishing books, especially since they are as much about the Mafia as they are about the dreadful lives that the men of Naples impose on women. Uncovered, she might well be deaded.

Readers need the Ferrantes of this world. Without anonymity, she wouldn’t have written her novels in the first place.

As for letters to the editor, why would people want their published opinions destroyed? Without names attached, those letters would be reduced to comments, which were killed off because they were libelous and hateful. Ferrante sought publishing privacy in a nation unfriendly to women so that she could write freely. But commenters demanded to be published privately and read publicly because they valued a twisted stained privacy.

Privacy is more valuable to women than men, I suspect because the social rules for women are so many and so strict. Is this why letters to the editor, an odd phrase to begin with, are almost all written by men, and many with such meritless self-confidence?

I am in awe of the daftness of a recent very long letter to the editor or “column” by a Preston Manning of a Manning Centre, deploring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “‘it’s all about me’ generation and its self-expression and promotion via social media.” I think this Manning person meant babies, but maybe he means the over-40s because they cry a lot, I have no idea.