… is from pages 46-47 of the original 1970 edition of John Demos’s outstanding account of early life in England’s Plymouth Colony in America, A Little Commonwealth:
It is commonplace today to decry the erosion of personal privacy under the impact of various trends in modern life – the growth of cities, the mass media, the whole ethos of “organization,” and above all the sheer increase in human population. Yet this picture is badly distorted, for it lacks any true historical perspective. It fails, moreover, to recognize the most intimate of all the basic theaters of human interaction – the home. The fact is that we in our homes of the mid-twentieth century have more privacy, more actual living space per capita, than any previous generation in history. The contrast with the situation that confronted the people of Plymouth, or indeed any seventeenth-century community, can be most instructive. It is not just that their houses were small to begin with. It is not just that even within this limited space a considerable part was used only for sleeping and storage. It is not just that their families were large, much more so than our own. It is not just that their ordinary activities were confined to a small radius in and around the home. It is rather the combination of all these factors that we must try somehow to grasp. Can we picture ourselves in such a setting – as one of a group of five, six, eight, or even a dozen people living and working and playing all together, day after day, in one room of rather modest size? One might ask, in fact, whether privacy would then be a meaningful concept at all.