Ready for their close-up

February 22, 2007

In my two “Dance of the Infinite Veils” postings from a few weeks ago (on 7 and 8 February), I followed the lead of several posters in the biblioblogosphere who pondered online personae. A New Yorker article by Emily Nussbaum explores how younger people appear to have fewer inhibitions about exposing their lives on the Internet.

Indulging in a bit of hyperbole, Nussbaum compares the apprehensions of older adults now with those who worried about rock and roll 50 years ago. Going even further, she believes that the self-exposure of the younger generation’s personal lives online signals the widest generation gap since the late 1950s. Although I have my doubts about such a shaky analogy, Nussbaum does provide readers with some interesting insights about the changes facilitated by the new media over the past few years.

Nussbaum speculates on which “turning points” compelled young people to take advantage of such media, and to expose some of the most private aspects of their lives. These include MTV’s Real World (which I saw as one of the most fake, pandering, and patronizing things in the world), as well as the infamous Paris Hilton video (No, not that one! The other one!) Whatever the case, she discusses how such self-exposure seems natural to the younger generation, and how they see privacy as little more than an illusion. Furthermore, as the aforementioned examples show, getting some kind of recognition (even negative) seems better than not being recognized at all.

Of course, this posting only skims the surface of Nussbaum’s article, which one needs to read to appreciate. I will say that it does a good job of making me feel like a fossilized phony, living under the illusion of privacy. However, because of small matters like having a career, as well as the prospect of unintentionally offending people I care about, I feel apprehensive about exposing all my personal baggage to the world. Still, I do not begrudge others the choice to put their “complete story” where everyone can see it. In fact, were it not for the aforementioned constraints, I might consider indulging in online naval gazing to turn my personal life into some kind of digital Gesamtkunstwerk. With more time, perhaps I could figure out a way to make good money from it. Ms Hilton has done so, but she already has the money to blow off the consequences.

As grossly unfair (and potentially illegal) as I find it, employers could use one’s online presence as a make-or-break factor in deciding whether to hire someone. As Xiyin Tang says in the article:

    If that girl’s video got published, if she did it in the first place, she should be thick-skinned enough to just brush it off… I understand that it’s really humiliating and everything. But if something like that happened to me, I hope I’d just say, well, that was a terrible thing for a guy to do, to put it online. But I did it and that’s me. So I am a sexual person and I shouldn’t have to hide my sexuality. I did this for my boyfriend just like you probably do this for your boyfriend, just that yours is not published. But to me, it’s all the same. It’s either documented online for other people to see or it’s not, but either way you’re still doing it. So my philosophy is, why hide it?

Tang’s points make me think about the hypocrisy of condemning someone whose actions were caught on video, even if those who harshly judge the exposed actions indulge in the same kinds of behavior themselves (or even in much worse behavior). Although Tang sees the exposure of one’s personal behavior as no problem, the new media has yet to change the attitudes of those who make the “big decisions” in society.

Whatever the personal or societal constraints, many of us have differing comfort levels with exposing ourselves online. Since my blog relates to librarianship, I try to keep it fairly professional. Nonetheless, I still like to share a bit about myself occasionally. At certain times in my personal life, I might think about things related to librarianship or information science. If I see or do something that resonates with me, I might feel the urge to share it with others, just to demonstrate that I have interests beyond the profession. On the other hand, I prefer to keep some things secret. I do not have time to share the details of my life with the world, and I have serious doubts that anyone would really care. However, if I were seeking another job, a prospective employer might care. A lot. Even though it might seem fake to the folks Nussbaum describes, “the real me” would care more about employment prospects than the desire to expose the every bit of my life to a broad audience. In addition, I doubt that Diane would be very happy if I uploaded some homemade homage to the Paris Hilton video.

Perhaps someday, I will have the courage to discuss the minutiae of my life; my personal hopes, desires, fears, joys, religious beliefs, political leanings, and so on. However, since this blog relates to librarianship, one would need to look elsewhere (if they really care, anyway). Nevertheless, I have debated whether or not to put a very personal posting on here. It may appear in a few weeks, on a significant anniversary date. However, it is nothing “naughty,” I (re)assure you.


One Response to “Ready for their close-up”

  1. […] article about the lack of concern younger people have with privacy. (In fact, I actually wrote a posting about that article a few months ago. I won’t repeat my thoughts here, so anyone who wishes to […]

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