Hal Niedzviecki’s The Peep Diaries explores how and why popular culture has evolved into one in which so many people suffer from the TMI (Too Much Information) syndrome. Not only are millions of exhibitionists willing to share the most intimate details of their lives with perfect strangers, they work hard to make sure as many people as possible view those details. As Niedzviecki notes on the first page of his book, Webster’s New World Dictionary added a new verb to its 2008 edition to describe this very phenomenon: overshare - to divulge excessive personal information, as in a blog or broadcast interview, prompting reactions ranging from alarmed discomfort to approval.
But let us be honest. There would be far fewer exhibitionists if the rest of us did not relish watching them make fools of themselves. Not only are we a culture of exhibitionists; we are a culture of voyeurs.
Niedzviecki believes that Peep Culture emerged because people find it more difficult today than ever before to develop close, long-lasting relationships. We might live in larger and larger cities, surrounded by more people than ever, but the pace at which we live our lives makes it near impossible to connect with like-minded people or to maintain such relationships over the long term. So what could be more tempting, or addicting, than how easy it is to find hundreds of new “friends” on websites like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube – especially when we can choose people who think and believe exactly as we do?
In order to test his theory, Niedzviecki became a direct participant in Peep Culture. Among other things, he blogged and he tweeted; he participated in what is humorously called “reality TV;” he met with a group of people who post nude photos of themselves on soft-porn websites; he researched the latest tech gadgets that allow us to spy upon one another; he made over 700 new friends on Facebook; and he filled out online surveys in which he exposed his personal details to companies that profit by selling his information to others. In other words, he did the very things so many of us have been doing for a number of years (well, maybe with the exception of posing in the nude for web photos).
Niedzviecki thoroughly explores the downside of Peep Culture, a downside that is particularly dangerous to young people on the cusp of maturing into the adults they will be for the rest of their lives. He notes that college administrators, hiring managers, credit managers, insurance investigators and others, are as aware of sites like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube as anyone else – and that they often pre-screen applicants based on what they see on those sites. Not surprisingly, what makes a high school or college student popular among his peers (primarily an ability to party with the best of them), is the very thing that could cost him admittance to the college of his choice, a high-paying job after college, or reasonably priced car or health insurance.
Niedzviecki spends surprisingly little time exploring the more positive aspects of Peep Culture. How, for instance, those finding it most difficult to make face-to-face friends often eliminate depression and raise self-esteem in the process of making dozens of new friends on-line – even to the point of using their new found confidence to make friends locally. Or how easy it is for like-minded people to find each other and share a passion about some obscure subject so few others seem to care about. But regardless of whether or not there is a Peep Culture “pro” to match every Peep Culture “con,” there is no going back to the way we were even two decades ago. The world has never been smaller, and never before have people been so interconnected for so many hours of the day.
The repetitiveness of Niedzviecki’s arguments does, at times, make for dry reading, but The Peep Diaries is a nice snapshot of where Peep Culture is today, if not necessarily where it will be this time tomorrow.
Rated at: 3.0