I was once an open person. Just about everyone knew or had access to the personal information I would never dream of giving away now. For instance, people knew my name. Not only did they know my name but they knew what I looked like. If that wasn’t enough, they knew who my peers were, who my family was and who my friends were. They knew where I’d been, what I was doing and where I lived, also the places I’d lived in the past up to that point. Now, I am no longer open. I have retreated into myself. If someone greets me, wishes to shake my hand and know a few things about me, I might venture to tell them my name. Oh yes, they may see traces of me here and there, which one with a truly vulgar curiosity will inevitably find. However, there is very little else one can know by my name alone. All one can gather of me after having learnt my name are scraps. People will ask me now, ‘How come I know nothing of your passions?’ ‘How come I know nothing of your tastes in music, film and art?’ ‘How come I don’t know your sexual orientation?’ ‘How come I don’t know whether or not you have a spouse, a significant other, a fiancé, a mistress, a civil or platonic union?’ ‘How come I don’t know on what street you live?’
Never mind that the actual root questions that would allow satiation to these curiosities were not addressed. How often does the quiet person fall casualty to the silence of a group of people who have suddenly run out of things to say when someone turns the attention of every person in the room to the quiet person and says, ‘Why are you so quiet?’ Questions that should not be asked need be answered. Such questions are indictments of a character that don’t have any relationship to anything one could call ‘conversation.’ A question that implies both its premise and its answer and the premise of its answer are meant to call the party being asked into a state in which they are forced to begin explaining their actions, only to realize in the midst of the explanation that everyone understands the answer despite the tremor of voice and the wanting articulation. There are few things more shameful than one having to explain oneself for not having explained oneself adequately enough unprompted. Asking someone ‘Why are you so private?’ is as pointless as asking a stutterer to explain, using nothing but words that start with the letter P, when his stuttering problem started, why he thinks it started and what he proposes to do to fix it. The very act of privacy—for privacy is as much of an act as inaction—is at once a war against shamelessness and an act of surrender to the privacy of others. One with vulgar curiosities about the lives of others will mistake their own need for privacy, which one then feels guilty for feeling a need, as a sense of secrecy. That information to which other people feel entitled, when undisclosed, becomes a sense of shame in one who would just as soon sneak up a tree to peak into the window of someone else to discover things they want to discover. There is always the fear that they are not treating the world fairly.
Lack of privacy used to be counted as one of the primary features of totalitarianism, whereas our lack of privacy is the new socialism. When we can’t find a sense of fairness on the political sector, we are obligated to find it amongst one another, and through what few tool’s we’ve been given. One of the tool’s graciously given to us was supplied by one Mark Zuckerberg. Through his social media tool, we’re able to wear a blue uniform in the cyber world that none of us would dream of wearing in the real world. Through Facebook, the paucity of one’s tastes may finally find relief in this social uniformity in which even the most particular may fall through those few porous places that leave us with only a fleeting sense of a personality. Even that which makes up a true personality is cleansed of so much eccentricity (save that which is of the socially acceptable kind), stripped of so much certainty concerning taste, propped up with so much quaintness and cuteness and encouraged into so much shameless self-promotion—for everything from the paltriest of ‘deep’ thoughts to the most boring art—that any inclination that one might have to be or say something truly original is trumped out quickly, like a mild infection by white blood cells, by all of the other ‘individuals’ who have decided to conglomerate for the purpose of societal harmony. The individual: Someone whose eccentricities are protected by their uniformity. It is a misconception that disharmony threatens those comfortable with their uniformity; it threatens those able to keep their individuality within easily testable perimeters. In order to keep our individuality in check, we must agree that certain deviations in the social uniformity to which we adhere beyond the perimeters of our individuality must be thought and acted out in complete silence, otherwise that little bit of eccentricity which we are actually ‘allowed’ will be compromised.
In the midst of the social media cloud, this medium by which everyone can promiscuously court every exhibitionistic drive within them all while pretending that responses and attentions are not needed, to what do we fall prey? Pictures of food? Three-paragraph political diatribes; occasional all-caps? Selfies? It is all a bit more sinister than the trivialities. They may drive us to make check boxes in the ‘delete’ section of our friends lists or prompt us to ‘unfollow’ someone’s feed, but the trivial hiccups that keep creeping up in culture are no great threat compared to the wholesale divvying up of information as a commodity, which we are then told we must ‘sell.’ The algorithms favor popular comments and this is what one sees at the top of the newsfeed. What does this amount to? Those who actually have an item to sell must popularize it and then compete with a popular statement that may have nothing to do with selling at all. The new socialism! All information is treated exactly the same, whether it be a proposed business transaction or the collegiate gripes of failed twenty-something romance.
The world of self-promotion is an enticing venture. How tempting to think that the elimination of my personal life may give me the attention needed to sell a product in order to fund my private life! Traffic, on the web, amounts to potential sales. Who is Erica Albright? I wrote an essay last year on the fact that she doesn’t exist. One theme of the essay was that people were plugging her name into internet searches to see if David Fincher’s film, The Social Network, had created a phantom or if there really was some old blog buried in the sands of time called ‘Zuckonit’ in which Mark Zuckerberg criticized Albright’s breasts and social class in one fell, drunken swoop with a few clicks of his billion-dollar fingers. My website then received daily traffic due to people’s curiosity about Erica Albright, a curiosity which was one of the sole themes of the essay!
One can see how the act of following the ‘trending’ articles of any given search engine—which bloggers, salesmen and politicians then use to attach to the information they wish to push—turns providers of internet content into parasites. ‘Cultural relevance’ is a numbers game; a matter of algorithms, repeatedly stressed points and compromises in taste. The market is free as long as information is considered free. It is no wonder that the mediators of Facebook have implemented a program that keeps track of deleted characters within potential comment posts under the pretense that the information will be given to parties performing a psychological study as to why people self-censor. It is curious that someone on the Facebook team thought that the public would find a ‘study on self-censorship’ a much nobler endeavor than all-out surveillance. If this proposed study is truly the motivation for their keeping track of character deletions, it is certainly costing someone a lot of money. It is very telling of our society that a study would be of such importance. What does this say but that slowness of thought is a curiosity to marketers and, God forbid, politicians? God forbid that when expressing oneself, one would actually think about what one is saying! God forbid someone would compromise the investment of a marketer’s sale. God forbid someone would take a few nights before enlisting in the military. God forbid someone would desist from sharing an opinion. God forbid one would pull one’s finger from the trigger to get a better look at the target, or perhaps, to lay the weapon down altogether!
One must forgive my curiosities for not having anything to sell. My curiosities may be just as vulgar as the next man’s and I may have just as much to sell but I would like to keep my curiosity and my business endeavors separate. In doing this, I don’t have to surrender my curiosities to that true demon which is the root of all of our wars, violence and strife—an answer.