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 Neighbors," 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 myriad cyber-phenomena: