09 December 2010

Public Knowledge

Why is it that secrecy and confidentiality are two of the most debatable topics? Is it because access to restricted information is more often a source of power (and excitement) than open access to knowledge?

With the WikiLeaks controversies raging in the media at present, this is probably a good time to relate an incident I experienced last year in Italy while having breakfast. The people concerned did not appear to value privacy, either for themselves or for those who happened to be in the same breakfast room at the small hotel in which I was staying.

Lake Como

Here are a few links you may wish to visit before considering the events I will be recounting here:

This is not classified information, of course. It is probably quite the opposite when considering the very public way in which it was gained. I had chosen to stay at the hotel in question because it was in a quiet location and the room I booked there also had a very beautiful view. I needed a restful place to stay for a few days after travelling extensively during my intensively busy research trip.

Before going further, you may like to take some detours to a few of my other blog posts:

Peace and privacy

A good society

Peace and security

Enjoying objectivity

A global inner peace index

All people matter

The blog posts linked above will give you an indication of my views about peace and privacy. When I am on holiday, these qualities are just as important to me as when I am at home. But how do you think people should behave in a small hotel/guest house in a beautiful, quiet location, whether on holiday or on business?

You may know that I also write a travel blog. Here are some links to posts you may find interesting:

Somewhere to sleep

Images of beauty

On the sublime, the superlative and the soggy

The most courteous people in the world

Many like to travel

Why travel?

At breakfast on the first morning at the little hotel overlooking Lake Como, there were two couples sitting at a nearby table, a Mr and Mrs M and a Mr and Mrs D. It was mid September 2009. It was raining. One of the men in the party had commandeered the table, and apparently the whole breakfast area, so that he could loudly use a hands-free voice-internet connection to confirm the reservations for the party's next two hotels.

I found it very rude, and in fact quite insulting and shocking, as there were not many tables available indoors during that wet and miserable morning. Many of the other guests had apparently opted for the cold, damp terrace as a breakfast spot because they did not want to hear the telephone conversations going on nearby, with the table in question looking more like an office desk than a pleasant place for a coffee and pastry.

Here are some more of my previous blog posts to consider:

Slow and gentle food and living

A sometimes conscious creature

The valuing of shared values

It was apparent to me that the two couples had no idea about how to preserve their own privacy and/or security, nor had they any respect for the privacy of those around them, nor for the people whose voices we could hear on the other end of their internet/phone connection. Would you allow perfect strangers to listen into your telephone conversations?

Unfortunately, none of the staff on duty spoke any English, though they looked rather embarrassed, and the guests in question spoke no Italian. The two couples had either finished eating some time before, or had not bothered to eat. Had they not thought that other guests may like to have somewhere warm and dry to eat breakfast?

While you reflect upon these issues, you may like to read some of my other blog posts. These are from a blog I write on the topic of identity:

Reflecting on identity

Fronts and face values

Identity politics

Sitting comfortably

Why was the man commandeering the breakfast room instead of confirming the reservations in the privacy of his hotel room? I use the word "commandeering" quite appropriately here because the two men in the party were ex-military personnel. They and their wives were about to travel from Lake Como to Venice, before heading to Germany.

You may be wondering why I am relating this to you here. The reason is because I know something about secrecy, confidentiality, security and suchlike matters, not just because of my training as a social scientist, and my background in the news media, but also because my parents worked in sensitive military establishments when I was in my teens.

Here are a few more of my blog posts to think about:

Respecting limits

A great feast of languages

Moving onwards

It was easy for me to gain a great deal of information about the two couples, just by sitting having breakfast at a table not far from their own. It was impossible not to hear every word they were saying, as the man making the calls had a very loud voice indeed. Did he not think about who might be listening?

Mr M and Mr D were retired United States airforce personnel (the initials of their surnames are correct and I have a note of the names in full should the U.S. State Department or Defense Department wish to re-educate citizens of their country in the expression of appropriately discrete international behaviour). The men behaved as though they had the right to do and say whatever they wished in a foreign country, regardless of the rights and wishes of those around them.

Here are some of my blog posts including the topic of status:

The inner world

Being a VIP - Social status and self-knowledge

Virtual Via Nation

I gained the impression, from their extremely audible telephone conversations, that they would be staying in Germany at the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort, in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area. It also seemed that they expected to receive special service and discounts wherever they went, reconfirming their status at every opportunity.

Although I have met many very nice people from the United States, I have also observed that there are quite a number of citizens of that country who behave as though they should always be the centre of attention. They can often be heard above the conversations of everyone else, even in a full restaurant or airport waiting area. I do not understand such a desire to dominate. That is why I write a blog called Quieter Living.

And finally, some more of my reflections on travels...

Staying centred

In search of a quiet garden

A comfortable search for peace

Findings, forests and feeling focussed

A blog about peace

Sunshine through the window

This is a very long blog post, I know. It provides plenty of public knowledge for visitors here to think about while I have some peace... hopefully.

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