We have a wired world that exhorts us to reveal ourselves. Of course, this didn’t start with the web. It was brewing since we said goodbye to our Victorian reserve. Early celebrity magazines like “Tattler” and “Hello” both served and punished those who featured in them; congratulating the rich and famous on their weddings, and publicly pillorying them for their excesses and social faux pas. But the exposé talk shows of the 80′s, with their cast of families falling apart, people coming out on live television, the spectacle of humanity in its ugliest moments, etc. brought this push for full public disclosure to a fevered pitch. The formula being that if celebrities are people whose lives are fully exposed, then we can all be celebrities if we fully expose ourselves. And this is formalized in the structure of reality TV and taken to its limits in the spectacle of self-made amateur porn.
Meanwhile, the tragedy of 9/11 and the growing sophistication of electronic means of surveillance, allow states, in the name of keeping us safe from harm, access to our communications, data transfers, stores of privately held information. Edward Snowden’s revelations about what the NSA has been doing have been met with, for the most part, ambivalence. For every person who complains that they no longer have privacy, five people respond that ‘If you don’t have anything to hide, this shouldn’t bother you.’
It’s for our own good. Our safety. We are told, patronizingly, that public confession is good for our souls. Get it off your chest. Tell us all about it. Blog it, tweet it, put it on Facebook. Reveal your innermost secrets, desires, dreams and we will… marketize them. The internet runs, financially, on user-generated content. And so we must encourage users to generate content and we do it by making self-exposure a civic duty.
I’m sorry Michel Foucault is not alive. I think he would have some valuable insights on what has happened to our culture in the last 20 years. He had some interesting things to say about surveillance; extrapolating the ‘panopticon’ model of Victorian prisons to the culture at large. For the most part, it is not necessary for those in power to keep us in line. We watch and judge each other. We model correct behaviour to each other, and never more so than now that we do it online.
We continue to protest that our sexuality is repressed, and yet we talk about it constantly. We flaunt our fantasies and our desires, and our self-exposure is reinforced by the accolades we receive for doing so. And the more extreme those desires, the more attention we get for having them. As long as we perform them publicly… and someone makes some money out of it.
For those who don’t expose themselves, there is always the shadowy, pseudo-legality of ‘those who keep us safe from terrorists’ who can pry into our emails, our telephone calls, our servers and our harddrives. If you refuse to be a public spectacle, we will ensure you know that you are still watched, still overseen by those who purport to have our best interests at heart.
No matter how anonymous you try to be, no matter how much think you’ve covered your tracks and separated your ‘real self’ from your online persona – I feel very confident in assuring you that you are not safe. If it is of benefit to someone to discover your real name, your home, your job… they can and they will.
Perhaps, truly, there is only one great transgression left. That of obscurity.