Emily Gould knew all too well that there would be a plethora of controversial comments in response to her "Exposed" article in today's New York Times magazine (in fact, so many that the magazine decided to shut down the comments section), accusing her of over-sharing (again!), of selling out her "story" after her life as a celebrity blogger for Gawker exploded. Sure, her honest account on "too much information" is "too much information," but no matter what you think of her motives, it made me think (and a little dizzy over breakfast). The first thing I did after reading it was to check my privacy settings on Facebook. The second thing was to write this post.
Gould's confessions of a life-blogger are disturbing as they negotiate the fragile space between radical online self-exposure, password-protected privacy, and a total reclusion from the digital world. Her story is a fable about intimacy and love in the time of social media, and the fading of boundaries, not only between off-line and online identity, but also professional and personal life. It's a frightening look into the fierce nature of 24/7 feedback loops, the social pressure of sharing your life online in order to have one, and a loneliness that could not be more public:
"Depending on how you looked at it, I either had no life and I barely talked to anyone, or I spoke to thousands of people constantly."
Welcome to the (new) social -- a space where you can be "famous for 15 people" (see Clive Thompson's take on micro-celebrities), protect your identity by volunteering and thus controlling secrets (CIA-style), and battle your fear of death (the Freud way):
"I think most people who maintain a blog are doing it for the same reasons I do: they like the idea that there’s a place where a record of their existence is kept -- a house with an always-open door where people who are looking for you can check on you, compare notes with you and tell you what they think of you. Sometimes that house is messy, sometimes horrifyingly so. In real life, we wouldn’t invite any passing stranger into these situations, but the remove of the Internet makes it seem O.K."
"Maybe it makes me feel safe to think that if I tell you all my secrets you won't have any ammo against me that I haven't given you."
When I read the last line of "Exposed," I first read it as an optimistic, hopeful departure, and the right choice of a chastened blogger:
"I still think about closing the door to my online life and locking them out, but then I think of everything else I'd be locking out, and I leave it open."
Looking at it again, I'm not so sure. It sounds like we don't have a choice anymore.