THE BIG READ: Giving bytes of my soul - Times LIVE
Mon May 29 19:00:40 SAST 2017

THE BIG READ: Giving bytes of my soul

Anne Taylor Fleming | 2013-03-19 00:25:07.0
Reality TV star Kim Kardashian photographs herself with fans while they take photos of her. Many of the photos will be posted on social networking sites in a world where privacy has died

It was almost quaint: Google's recent apology for privacy violations. Granted, it came in the face of a lawsuit in which the company got its hand slapped for "data-scooping," a wonderful phrase that could be the slogan of our current lives.

Google was found to have crossed the line with its Street View Project, in which in addition to photographing houses and buildings along the world's streets and avenues, the Googilians scooped up all manner of personal information from zillions of unencrypted wireless networks.

Really? I'm shocked. Not. Who doesn't data scoop is my question?

I look at a bathing suit on line. For the next few weeks, whenever I open my laptop it pops right up. It's like I am being stalked by a bathing suit. I vow to never ever again succumb to online shopping, a resolve that crumbles faster than my New Year's resolutions.

Every day I am online giving away not just bits of information, but bytes of my soul, or at least that's the way it feels. Obviously the social media sites - Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare et al - are the most glaring examples. We can complain about Google and about the predatory identity thieves out there who hack into our "private" information, but the truth is we are the saboteurs of our own privacy.

We have signed on for this ride. We have put ourselves out there to an astonishing degree. I do some of this myself: I blog, therefore I am. People post back: lovely things, nasty things. I don't know these people. Why do I care?

I see in myself what I see in others, a turn towards the spotlight - or the cyberlight, if you will. A willingness to live a large part of life in public, to give away part of myself, to spill my guts, my sorrows - over losing a mother, for example, as I did not so long ago - in a cheap and easy way.

There is our now reflexive-compulsive need to run to the laptop or message or tweet. Even presidents and the pope are tweeting (the last one anyway; we don't know about the new one). We are on a share high. We don't sit with the grief or, for that matter, with the joy. We don't let it register, penetrate the nerve endings. In our frantic efforts to recycle our deepest feelings, they become, in the process, less deep. We cheapen ourselves and our memories. We don't even let them settle before repackaging them for public consumption. For shame. I feel that often: that shame.

On Sunday two Steubenville, Ohio teenage boys were found guilty of raping an inebriated girl at a party as other kids tweeted and texted about the incident and sent out pictures and videos. She was so drunk that the teen found out the details of her sexual assault on social media. These texts and online videos were key to the charges against the high school football stars.

I would say: unbelievable. But on some level it is no longer unbelievable. By the dark grace of our technology, we are all voyeurs now - even of a rape.

On a different level, something else is happening: My writing is getting worse, slicker - like that of so many others. Not so long ago, a friend sent me the Facebook posting from someone she knows who had just fallen in love with an old boyfriend. It was a love letter to him. I was embarrassed by it because it was personal (a concept we have lost) - but mostly because it was goopy and badly written.

That's the problem. Art takes time. Art takes quiet. Art is sacred. It will not come in a flash of self-revelation. We are becoming decidedly less artful. We are giving away so much so fast - the feelings, thoughts, highs and lows - that we don't take the time to make all that into something larger, more lovely - certainly better written. We are all shooting from the hip not the heart - or better yet, the mind.

There is a growing tendency not to be authentic, to indulge in what I call the half-share. You are playing with being open, but are just learning how to play to the audience. I know; I do it.

Sometimes I feel as if I have a cyber doppelganger. Perhaps we all do: performing public selves that compete against our real, private selves, the ones who feel deeply and think deeply and create things of real value.

Obviously there is a loneliness driving a lot of this need. We live in a speedy, multitasking world where there is scant time to meet with true friends so we just friend on the internet.

The quasi-intimate friending/unfriending dance is a substitute for real connection. I have not succumbed to this - not out of virtue, just out of laziness and something more. Meanies and bullies lurk. So do old school friends one doesn't want to deal with again.

But I do get the longing, the sense of isolation that drives people to reach out, the manic need to keep fingers racing over the cellphone keyboard, to try to hook something real, someone. Hi, hi, hey, hey, hey - it's me, it's me, where are you? I am eating, burping, laughing, wish you were here, wish you were here. Be my friend. Don't be my friend.

The other thing, of course, is that online you are your own reality show star, the Instagram Kardashian. Clearly the reality TV show craze is part of the same need. We will do anything now in public. This is far from a new trend, though the technology has sped up our collective exhibitionism.

I remember when women were having a husband or friend videotape the birth of their babies. Slippery, bloody, coming-out-of-the-canal videos. I know these images are beautiful to the participants, but there is something about this that makes me squeamish and sad. Is this not one of the more meaningful moments that should be held close?

Is nothing sacred? - Reuters


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