Hal Niedzviecki, author of The Peep Diaries, recently spoke at the Winnipeg Writers’ Festival about how we’ve moved from Pop culture to Peep culture. In other words, how society has gone from watching celebrities, artists and performers (with talent) to watching ourselves, our neighbors or complete strangers (who generally lack talent) in search of entertainment, attention, or connection.Peep culture includes reality TV, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, chatrooms, iPhones and the whole range of social media, GPS-enabled gadgets and other forms of constant surveillance technology.In this new era of Peep, privacy has become a commodity and people are willing to trade the details of their private lives for community, cash or potential fame.Peeping into the “real lives” of others, or digitally documenting our own, is acclimatizing us to want, need and desire surveillance. In our constant urge to answer “What are you doing now?” people looking for connection are often finding addiction. How many hours a day are devoured by an incessant need to blog, tweet, or upload that video from your cell phone?And when does the desire to share become “oversharing” (i.e., divulging far too much personal information)? I have no interest in watching a middle-aged housewife being spanked by her “Master,” hearing lonely teenagers sing in the bathroom, or seeing anyone drunk out-of-his-mind and behaving badly.The great paradox of Peep is that the all-consuming desire to connect often disconnects us from genuine and meaningful interaction, from cultivating true friendships and from nurturing our own humanity.Is our virtual world more important than the real world?In The Peep Diaries, Hal Niedzviecki recounts his own experience with social networking, when he invited his 700 Facebook friends, 30 Twitter followers and readers of his blog, to a party at his local bar. Only one person showed up; she stayed for an hour, and then left Hal drinking alone.As Hal says, virtual friendship is friendship with low (or no) expectations. “It’s easier to take part in community from in front of a screen. It’s much harder to make an emotional connection and then live up to another person’s expectations, hopes, and desires. Social media creates distance, even as they fill in the gaps.”As we eagerly monitor the rising numbers of our Facebook friends, Twitter followers or LinkedIn connections, we need to make the distinction between real and pseudo-connection, between virtual and actual networking. In your vast social network, how many of these friends and followers will conduct business with you, come to your Christmas party or bring you homemade soup when you’re sick?I will always prefer face-time to Facebook; would much rather network over spilled martinis than the Internet, and would never trade my Real Life for a Second Life. (C’mon, how satisfying can sex with an avatar be?)Technology, including the components of Peep, offers valuable ways to talk to each other, promote business and do good stuff – but people, let’s keep it REAL.
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