Virtual Public, Virtual Private, and Immeasurable Distances

A sombre weekend is sometimes really useful and sometimes really difficult. I listened to ethereal soundscapes as the sun slowly ebbed away. I made tea and watched words blend upon its surface. It’s the kind of combination that can fuel anything, and thus it demands a lot more of me.

Tea and Text
“She cuts some bread and says to the child / It’s time for tea now…”

The quietude has allowed a quiet reassessment of the use of the public. Public and private are a dichotomy, yet not straightforward opposites.

The understanding of public and private (but especially public) has long rested on several key concerns: one being public and private ‘spheres’, of voice and discussion; another being the public and private life, of sociability and community.

A new virtual public and private inextricably links these together in a fascinating and yet daunting way.

Virtual public

For months, the British boxer David Haye has used the public sphere outrageously. Boxing fans have voiced disapproval at his tasteless antics, and the swift turn to excuses following a limp defeat to Wladimir Klitschko rendered his public vulgarity all the more galling. Defeat means there is only more to lose through belligerence.

The public sphere feeds incessantly upon ‘ego’. And, of course, boxing is extraordinary in this capacity. But ‘public’ is, after all, a collective extension of ourselves. Hubris supported by performance is often commendable. Bravery. Confidence. Heroism. Hubris without it – stupidity. It’s the context that determines whether words are placed on the right or wrong side of the divide.

Does the private sphere escape these egoist traits?

Virtual private

The private is more perplexing. It demands more effort, leaves more silence, and provokes more unanswered questions. The private requires its own confidence and more thought about communication. It’s easy to be forgotten, but it also carries the power to be memorable or needed.

It has become increasingly difficult to engage privately. ‘Publicness’ has considerable benefits in a digital environment, and one cannot easily impart a personality or demonstrate sociability through silence.

To be public is to be transparent. There is a comfort in having discourse where everything can be seen. It’s also more immediate and more visible. Ask a question or send a message privately, and a response may never come. On the other hand, “I haven’t heard from you!’ somewhere visible will likely procure a response. Nobody wants to look bad publicly for having ignored something.

Immeasurable distances

The private, as always, has its darker side. There are things channelled privately that nobody would dare say publicly. And being behind a virtual device, there’s a mask to say almost anything without consequence, however harmful.

For this author, the most challenging negotiation between public and private has not changed: the quest for private sovereignty. The pride I build is in my own principles, and in private acts. To divulge them, which may (or may not) afford me a little credit, would only destroy what made them special. Dignity is possibly the most private thing there is to hold.

Thank you, as ever, for continued support, visits, encouragement, and patience.


5 thoughts on “Virtual Public, Virtual Private, and Immeasurable Distances

  1. “I haven’t heard from you!’ somewhere visible will likely procure a response. Nobody wants to look bad publicly for having ignored another.”

    How very true. And worthy of further investigation…

    1. Your clients won’t be thanking me then? 🙂

      I’m sure there would be few statements better made than changing a homepage’s text to ‘These planks haven’t paid me…. still!’

      We’ll catch up soon, my friend.

  2. With reference to your third-from-last paragraph: I have been hurt at least as much by public attacks as by private and secluded ones. On occasion I have found it morally justifiable to share hurtful private missives, even if the sender might have preferred – but didn’t specifically ask – that I didn’t.

    With that in mind, I would welcome your thoughts (now there’s a loaded term) on the recent case of Heidi Withers and family. Ironically, her name would be a gift to a story writer wanting to portray a shrinking violet.

    1. Well, exactly, my friend. The ability to make private material public is one of the very few discentives there is to private bullying. To those ends, wherever possible (though I’ve not always gone by this), I’ll try my best to keep what’s private that way. Even if I felt the need to quote soundbytes, I wouldn’t want it to be identifiable. Somehow, I’d sooner hear what’s to be said on the basis that I’m expected to honour the privacy of a conversation than have it not be said because of the expectation that I would bark straight to the public sphere. But if it can be a discentive to sad and hurtful things at all, I’ve no complaints with that scenario.

      With that in mind, sadly, I would find several to blame in the Heidi Withers catastrophe. Even if the mother-in-law might have expected more privacy, she has been revealed for her callousness. That’s the part that feels morally acceptable. But the fallout has been greater than that. Why the lass felt the need to circulate it when there would have been other means of consolation, I do not know. Whichever friends thought it their property to circulate are no better. They’ve dragged the family, and Miss Heidi’s reputation through the gutter (even if I did like her father’s quip). What hope for the relationship now? I feel sorry for the girl, I really do, but there are responsibilities in authorship and reception. Having it end up in the press is a shambles, and all have to suffer the shame now. That’s my take, anyhow. What about yourself, good sir? x

      1. Whatever the deranged nastiness of Carolyn Bourne’s email (for which, it seems, she has shown no contrition), Heidi’s friends/contacts have neither augmented nor diminished the crime by publicising it, and may not have acted in the couple’s best interests. Heidi could have done herself a favour by not showing the email to anyone but family, though it could be understood as a knee-jerk response to a sickening, stifling shock. If Heidi is a victim, so is Freddie, who must deal with the fact that his stepmother not only cannot be happy for him, but pities him. Going by what the couple have now said to the press, hope for the relationship does not seem to be an issue, but this is a story that we cannot and probably should not follow through its forthcoming chapters.

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