Why we can't stop looking
Have we moved from pop culture to "peep culture"? Hal Niedzviecki on an age of Facebook,
Twitter and reality TV
By Amanda Fortini
Jul. 24, 2009 | www.salon.com
If you, like me, are somewhat private by nature, you are often made uneasy by our exceedingly
confessional society, one in which friends upload photos of all things personal — kids, wild weekends,
dark adolescent years — tweet their every move, or allow people to track those moves with a handheld
device. Last winter, I argued with a close friend about her plan to post an unattractive photo of me on
Facebook. I thought it was my prerogative to ask that the photo remain where it was — in her camera.
She thought I was being narcissistic and precious, that I should get over myself. (Or, failing that, just
“untag” it.) Last fall, I hired a young woman to help me transcribe an interview, the contents of which
I’d hoped would remain confidential, and she wrote about it on her blog. Then my mother began a
campaign of cyber-stalking, pointing to my Facebook status updates (“Amanda is driving to the
desert”) as proof that I had time to come home for a visit. In the age of cyber-expression, privacy has
become a near-impossible luxury.
My struggle to navigate these public-private rapids is hardly unique. In 2008, the editors of Webster’s
New World Dictionary and Thesaurus chose “overshare” — a verb with which many of us are all too
familiar — as their word of the year. Recently, on NPR’s "AirTalk," the discussion focused on a new
site, called “My Parents Joined Facebook,” a forum where adult children can “get back at” their parents
for “taking away their public privacy.” (How’s that for a 21st-century oxymoron?) “Family. Can’t
Facebook with ’em, can’t unFriend ’em!” is the site’s slogan. Those are but two snapshots from the
outlaw territory in which we have found ourselves.
In his new book, "
The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our
," writer Hal Niedzviecki names this “cultural movement steeped in and made possible by
technological change.” He calls it “peep culture.” Peep culture, according Niedzviecki, encompasses
Peep culture is reality TV, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, MySpace and Facebook. It’s
blogs, chat rooms, amateur porn sites, virally spread digital movies of a fat kid
pretending to be a Jedi Knight, cell phone photos — posted online — of your drunk
friend making out with her ex-boyfriend, and citizen surveillance. Peep is the backbone
of Web 2.0 and the engine of corporate and government data mining.
Peep culture involves watching and being watched, snooping and spying, gawking and gossiping; it
means exposing our intimacies with an eye toward bonding with others and growing comfortable with
the increasingly common slippage between public and private. Peep culture, like pop culture, informs
the atmosphere — it is the atmosphere — in which we live. Writes Niedzviecki, “It’s like that famous