Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Sympathy For Dunshaughlin

I would like to extend my sympathy to the good people of the town of Dunshaughlin in County Meath, Ireland. As you can see from this extract from today's Irish Times, James Lawless has passed away and, as a mark of respect, his pub and hardware store has been closed until after the funeral on Thursday.

The wonders of the Internet means, of course, that what was once parochial is now pandemic. I know of Jimmy's death because of the notice in the Irish Times which I was able to read thanks to my Press Display subscription. Wanting to know a little more about the late owner of "The Dublin House" I was easily able to track down a feature on him and his family which appeared in the Irish newspapers some nine months ago.

No doubt I could read his will, check his bank account, riffle through his Health Records, and check his tax returns if I wanted to. But I don't. And even if I did, Jimmy wouln't mind. He's gone now, part of history, part of the public record.

I know that a lot of people get very worried about the amount of information about us that is out there. This is all part of the big-brother world where individual privacy has reached the extinction stage. But so much of the fear seems to be pointless paranoia. Jimmy's family had lived for three generations in the vicinity of Dunshaughlin before he and his wife bought the Dublin House pub in 1945. Running the pub and hardware store would have made them the centre of village life. And from what little I know of village life, the mass of information which is available on the Internet about them will be nothing compared to the mass of personal information which would have been common currency in a rural community.

People who look back on a golden age of individual privacy which is now under threat from the all-watching, all-recording world of databases and security cameras, are often yearning for something which never existed. Whereas before the knowledge of Jimmy's death at the age of 90 would have been known throughout the town, now it can be known throughout the world. I don't see anything wrong with that. And neither does Jimmy.

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