Me, myself and the Internet

Anonymity on the Internet used to be prized. Kids made up colloquial, descriptive emails (e.g ‘fairy_dust86’ or ‘lightningsonic’) that accompanied their equally mysterious monikers on Internet chatrooms and parents were warned about the dangers that came from revealing too much personal information.

But times have changed. It’s no longer about how much you hide, but rather about how much you can tell people about yourself.

The proliferation of blogs and social networking websites has given rise to a trend of ‘virtual exhibitionism’ where it’s no holds barred if one wished to gush all about him or herself. Cue self-written Facebook or Myspace profiles, hours spent editing Facebook albums to exhibit a lifestyle of fun and the growing phenomenon of bloggers who gain fan bases by just writing about the daily occurrences in their lives.

{{ quote It’s no longer about how much you hide, but rather about how much you can tell people about yourself }}

Take social networking site Twitter for instance, which has arguably become the latest online playground for virtual exhibitionists. Twitter users, most of whom use their real names, post 140-character-long ‘tweets’ or updates about their daily personal life to inform the Twitter world about mundane things such as the scones breakfast one had this morning to one’s gripes about writing that cumbersome 5000-word-long Politics essay. While the service does have many (useful) uses, for those who have gone Twitter-mad and the host of celebrity Twitter users such as British comedian Stephen Fry, fashion queen Nicole Richie and even US President Obama, what the service provides is the chance to (virtual-y) scream: “Don’t you want to hear all about my interesting life?!”

Blogs too have proved to be a useful virtual exhibitionist tool. Swedish teenager Isabella Löwengrip of photographs and writes about subjects such as eateries she has visited and holidays that she has gone on. Simple things, but which have gained her blog an average of 21,000 visitors a month and Internet fame in Sweden. While blogs may be and remain virtual diaries for most, such blogs may also bring about success and popularity depending on how interesting your life is and how much you’re willing to share.

This modern inclination towards self-interested online gushing has also been accompanied by an almost-obsessive impulse to document life’s every detail. The affordability and ease of carrying around digital cameras these days, the ability to blog or tweet on-the-go from our mobile phones and the spread of WIFI networks across the world has allowed Internet users an almost constant stream of connectability. While our parents retold their stories through photo albums and verbal stories, the Internet generation is constantly writing and updating their autobiographies through their blogs, Facebook profiles or Twitter accounts.

For chronic virtual exhibitionists, Laurel Papworth had only harsh things to say. In a article, the social networking analyst chastised those who habitually changed their Facebook statuses as being big attention seeking extroverts.

“The extrovert, they are always going to be updating because the world revolves around them and one can assume that means the world needs to know how they are feeling from minute to minute,” Papworth was quoted as saying.

For others, this trend of declaring your thoughts and deeds to the virtual world instead of speaking directly to friends or family is worrying. A teaser for new animated series ‘Supernews’ describes Twitter users as exhibitionists who only make superficial online friendships and who confuse microblogging with real social connections; ‘If they were really your friends, wouldn’t they call you personally to see how you’re doing?’

Such fears may not be unfounded. The ability to gain instantaneous attention has also been accompanied by heightened Internet insecurities – what if no one wanted to read what you wrote? As one lonely Twitter user lamented:

“One week, after I come to, I have 34 tweets and one follower, without following any one. Is this a normal case? I feel kinda lonely on Twitter, or I shouldn’t care about whether I have any follower, just tell the world what I am doing, and leave silently.”

While it might be a comforting thought that most of us have yet to base our entire self worth on the amount of attention we gain from fellow Internet users, this danger remains considering that Internet does provide the ease and access for one to satisfy the urge to publicize anything and everything. While only the rich and famous received media attention in the past, now almost anyone can get his or her five minutes of fame with just a click of the button.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.