Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
5/29/2008
01:14 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
Commentary
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Like It Or Not, You're An Internet Exhibitionist

Emily Gould is an attractive young woman who's an Internet exhibitionist. She writes in the New York Times Magazine about her experiences as the co-editor of the gossip blog Gawker, where she shared intimate details of her romantic life and posted scantily clad pictures of herself. You might simply look at Emily as a freak. But if you use Facebook, or Twitter, or keep a personal blog, or are active on any other social media, then you and Gould are two of a kind -- the only difference is w

Emily Gould is an attractive young woman who's an Internet exhibitionist. She writes in the New York Times Magazine about her experiences as the co-editor of the gossip blog Gawker, where she shared intimate details of her romantic life and posted scantily clad pictures of herself. You might simply look at Emily as a freak. But if you use Facebook, or Twitter, or keep a personal blog, or are active on any other social media, then you and Gould are two of a kind -- the only difference is where you draw the line between private and public.Gould writes about her experience as a tell-all blogger:

I started seeing a therapist again, and we talked about my feelings of being inordinately scrutinized. "It's important to remember that you're not a celebrity," she told me. How could I tell her, without coming off as having delusions of grandeur, that, in a way, I was? I obviously wasn't "famous" in the way that a movie star or even a local newscaster or politician is famous -- I didn't go to red-carpet parties or ride around in limos, and my parents' friends still had no idea what I was talking about when I described my job -- but I had begun to have occasional run-ins with strangers who knew what I did for a living and felt completely comfortable walking up to me on the street and talking about it. The Monday after my disastrous CNN appearance, as I stood in line at Balthazar's coffee bar, a middle-aged man in a suit told me to keep my chin up. "Emily, don't quit Gawker!" a young guy shouted at me from his bicycle as I walked down the street one day. If someone stared at me on the subway, there was no way to tell whether they were admiring my outfit or looking at the stain on my sweater or whether they, you know, Knew Who I Was. The more people e-mailed the Gawker tip line with "sightings" of me -- laden with bags from Target and scarfing ice cream while walking down Atlantic Avenue -- the more I was inclined to believe it was the latter.

She writes about how she started out running a small, personal blog where she shared the intimate details of her life with just a few hundred people. She writes about being thrilled and honored to be named co-editor of Gawker. She indulges Gawker readers' demands to reveal more about herself, and posts provocative pictures of herself on the blog. She appears on Larry King Live, where guest-host Jimmy Kimmel ambushes her with criticism of some of the celebrity gossip Gawker runs. She starts getting recognized on the street. She breaks up with her boyfriend, Henry, who's never understood her need to overshare on the Internet, and always hated it. She has an affair with a co-worker, Josh, who writes a tell-all magazine article, and now it's Gould's turn to be scandalized. She writes that she found herself laying curled up in a fetal position on the floor, depressed, not once but twice.

I don't think I've ever laid down on the floor in a fetal position. When I'm really depressed, I go to bed. Just because I feel blue doesn't mean I should be uncomfortable.

It's easy to judge Gould. It's easy to say she's spoiled, she's overprivileged, she's self-absorbed, over-indulgent, selfish, manipulative, and dishonest, and also to cast aspersions at her sexual virtue. Susan Mernit on the blog BlogHer accuses the New York Times of cynical pandering by running Gould's article, as though Gould were a sweet young girl and the Times editors were pimps who took advantage of her innocence. There's probably some truth to those judgments, but they're not particularly useful.

Gould isn't unique -- she's an extreme example of the tens of millions of people who maintain profiles on MySpace or Facebook, share photos on LinkedIn, maintain personal blogs, and post to Twitter. Using social media means you're sharing your life with the public, and you have to decide how much of your life to share.

Gould writes: "I think most people who maintain blogs are doing it for some of 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 OK."

Blogger Ariel Meadow Stallings writes at the blog Electrolicious that she can relate to Gould's experiences: "Is it sad that so much of a fragile ego can be built on comments from strangers on the Internet? Probably, but I dare you to ignore dozens (or hundreds!) of people telling you every day how awesome or awful you are." (Via Scribbling.net)

Stallings writes about having similar experiences to Gould's. Apparently Stallings, like Gould, is a Web celebrity. I never heard of either of them before reading their work this week. Indeed, I barely know what Gawker.com is. But that's part of the phenomenon of Web celebrity. Previously, the phenomenon of localized celebrity was available mostly to local TV personalities, radio DJs and newspaper columnists; now, blogging lets a great many people experience that kind of intense, but microcosmic, celebrity.

The increasing popularity of social media means we all face the choices that Gould faced. Social media allow us to easily share our lives with a worldwide audience -- sometimes against our will, as happened to Ghyslain, an awkward 15-year-old who recorded a video of himself pretending to play with a light-saber, and reaped worldwide ridicule as the Star Wars Kid.

danah boyd of the University of California Berkeley has written insightfully about the culture she calls "micro-celebrity" and how teenagers model their lives on real celebrities, releasing information about themselves on MySpace and other social networks for an audience of a few dozen friends and peers. It is, she says, part of a culture of narcissism, which she finds alarming. And it's pretty commonplace, too.

And here's where this all becomes relevant for the InformationWeek community: The teens that boyd studies are fast becoming adults. The youngest people in the corporate workplace today -- people in their early 20s -- grew up in the culture of micro-celebrity. They're a tiny minority now, a disenfranchised bunch in entry-level jobs. But every year there will be more of them, and they will become more influential, and there will be fewer of us who grew up in that quaint, old-fashioned world where there was a stout firewall between our private and public lives.

Jason Warner writes on the blog Brazen Careerist about people who post offensive content about themselves on social networks, and what happens to them when they go looking for jobs. He doesn't think it's a big deal if job applicants post information on their social media sites that put them in a bad light. He doesn't think employers should care, either.

What do you think? Is it healthy to share your life on social media like blogs, Facebook, and MySpace? Leave a message below and let us know.

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