I've had a great break, and being away from web-publishing /posting for a while it has allowed me think about exposure & personal revelation on the web and indeed in everyday life.
During the break I read an article in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled Too Much Information (see the full article here), and it resonated strongly with me. It basically explores the concept of keeping things personal in an increasingly public world.
What do we think we can reasonably expect to know about other people, and they about us?
The gossip magazines know our appetite for celebrity news, their continued existence demonstrates that clearly. But these days it isn't just about celebrities. Reality TV shows take us into the hearts and minds of their literal guy-next-door stars, blogs tell-all about their authors as well as whatever information they divulge about others. It's not just what they're wearing or where they're holidaying, it's who they're having sex with and how they're doing it, what they're obsessing over, what's happening in their relationships & families, why they're having counselling; there really is no limit to the detail. Blogs and Facebook pages become forums on their owners' private lives, whether they like it or not, though usually triggered by self published information. The more we see it around us, the more we expect people to be forthcoming with all the details of their intimate lives.
Personal information has become not a saleable commodity, but an expected part of routine social intercourse. Penile dimensions and sexual preferences often prioritised ahead of personality, occupation or, god forbid, political persuasion. Conversations that don't enter into the sordid are seen as bland, boring, conservative and oh-so-last-century. I was sitting chatting with The Frenchman and close female friend of ours in a public space last week when a woman sitting within earshot interrupted us to ask if we were a threesome. We were speechless.
The future is looking to get even more invasive. Today's primary school kids email and text each other day and night discussing their latest crushes and all manner of topics, just a decade ago you'd rarely have seen a letter and even more rarely a phone call from these kids who are now texting 24/7. How much information about their school mates will they know by the time they get to high school?
I see relationships being shredded live on the net with all and sundry getting in on the action with intimate details let loose. People get hurt, and the world looks on and wants more. What's the juice? What's the Goss? Who's doing what to whom? It's okay, you can tell me, [I'll only divulge it if it feels right at the time.]
Have you ever been told that because you haven't shared your entire sexual history with someone, you're not really a friend?
When will we get enough? Will we ever be satiated with the information we draw in?
And do we really need it?
It seems what happens in Vegas doesn't always stay in Vegas any more. The ability to compartmentalise various aspects of our lives is seen now as a bad thing, transparency is king. But laying our lives bare for analysis and criticism is not always productive and frequently boundaries are blurred and out of context we are misinterpreted. Do you want to have your manhunt or gaydar profile blended with your Facebook profile? Being able to share things deeply personal with a trusted few is something that enriches those relationships. Share them with the world and do people really appreciate it?
Are we happy to divulge our personal lives to everyone? Personally I'm increasingly not. There are elements that I'm happy to share where I feel my experiences may benefit others. There are bloggers who are extremely candid with their posts about their lives which can put them in the firing line from all and sundry. Certainly there are times when this can truly be beneficial, especially in the gay world where dealing with HIV, family and coming out can be significantly aided by following others' personal experiences. But where is the boundary between personal development and voyeuristic infotainment?
I like a little mystery, uncertainty, the element of surprise. It's what makes the world an interesting place and people more intriguing. Having to make a little effort to explore all the hidden places in people's lives is a lot more interesting than having them served up on a platter. It is after all the journey that is half the fun, and I want 100% not just half of it.