Memoir writers and privacy

Here’s a new idea that I saw voiced on a FB thread recently. That it is rich – and I paraphrase – for a memoir writer to complain about breaches of privacy.

The imposition on online users of various extra security rules and requirements, for example, being asked to supply our phone number for extra security, or told we “must” download our banking app onto our mobile phone, seems to be becoming more widespread. These extra security measures sound harmless enough: if we are in France our holiday, say, and we attempt to log in to Facebook, there are times when we will be blocked from doing so. I assume that the mega computers are suspicious that we are not ourselves, and we are therefore asked to supply extra data for verification before we can access our accounts. (At least I now know what “Please add your phone number for extra security” is all about. I have not and will not give out my phone number. And so, I won’t use on-line networks when away from my usual domicile.)

However, I started this blog post to probe one suggestion made, that it is rich – and I paraphrase – for a memoir writer to complain about breaches of privacy.

Huh?? Memoir writers are people with lives that go well beyond the content of a memoir or even a confessional, weekly newspaper column. And if we write sensitively, no-one else we mention in our memoirs – and other people usually feature tangentially – should not come off too badly. I change names, alter circumstances, and in any case, my recall is often at variance with that of others, which acts as a natural, protective barrier around our personal lives. “What? I don’t remember that!!” is not simply about perspectives: it places our recall at a remove which ultimately, is like a safety valve.

I think, I suppose, probably, that the assumption made, that memoir writers have no expectation of privacy, has two parts. First, that memoir writers have already laid their lives out for public scrutiny, and therefore, they are used to it, expect it, and have somehow forfeited their rights to privacy. Second, that they – I am supposing – have already made reference to the lives of others in, I am supposing, a rather presumptuous fashion and therefore, have a bit of a cheek supposing that they should be entitled to privacy when those they write about have been “outed”.

Both these assumptions are questionable at best. Memoirs are often an attempt by writers to make sense of chaotic or baffling circumstances. They are an attempt to join with others in understanding, to reach out and console, and to get beyond first base and live better lives. That all seems very useful and worthwhile to me, and doesn’t lend me to suppose that memoir writers have skin like rhinos or are uniquely tough and open-all-hours type of people.

Thanks for listening.

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