Monday, October 18, 2010

Invasion of Privacy

Three ring binders full of June and Art love letters.

Regarding the June and Art love letters, a friend shared this on a message board:  “It still..... it seems like peeking. Too personal.”

The initial plunge into family items can feel like a major invasion of privacy.  You open drawers with trepidation.  You dread what you might find under the bed…  And you wonder, is this okay?  Would they approve?  Or would they want their records burned, buried, or locked away until all parties involved have been dead for decades?

History erodes privacy rights.  Kafka’s manuscripts end up published despite his expressed wishes that they be burned.  Anne Frank’s private diary goes public.  I understand the feeling that it’s “too personal,” but there’s an historian in me who insists on peeking.

With the June and Art correspondence, the options were:  1) to destroy the love letters, 2) to keep the love letters in a secure location, unopened and unread, 3) open and read them, then put them away, or 4) open and read them and then share them with the world by blogging them real-time (minus 61 years).  Without much hesitation, my sister and I chose option 4.

There was remarkably little ethical struggle in our case.  During her last year, my mother asked my wife to organize her letters, perfectly aware that we were reading them.  We know that my parents were proud of their artwork.  They both liked new technologies.  And they certainly appreciated the value of preserving family stories and photos.  We’re pretty sure they’d like the June and Art blog.

But I can’t claim that our case is the norm.  These particular letters happen to work well as a romantic narrative.  But one shudders to imagine a blog, 60 years hence, based on sexting messages of the early 21st century.  Eventually, it’s all history and the historians will peek.

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