Facebook, Twitter: How we chose to live in public

The end of 2009 and beginning of 2010 see much commentary about how living your life in public has become the norm. Is this technology's fault? Or is this what people always wanted?

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Some people celebrated the coming of 2010 with crystal glasses of fizzy yellow liquid. Others used the opportunity to stare into their crystal glasses and see what we have and will become.

Perhaps the most pulsating and sad suggestion is that we no longer have any privacy. You burp in Bellingham and someone quickly hears about it in Sydney. You decide you dislike your wife, so you tweet about it, tell your Facebook friends and then get around to telling her. If you can remember to do that.

Even more bilious is the early-in-2009 suggestion of Laurent Haug, CEO of the Lift Conference, that if we want privacy we have to create it. You know, make your public self the publicly palatable version and keep the insidious pervert you for your special friends.

Where the depressed and dissatisfied used to tell their shrinks that they were miserable because they felt like there was a camera on them all the time, now they seem to rejoice in being the stars of their own Truman Show. "Clarissa is having coffee, a croissant and second thoughts." Wow, you go there, Clarissa. Let us know what happens next.

This is Tiger Woods' yacht. He understands the new reality. CC Duncan Rawlinson/Flickr

Strangely, some people seem rather keen to blame technology for their own increasingly public behavior. There are those who, when confronted with their own public proclamations of their everyday lives, say it was the technology that made them do it. It was there, everyone was doing it, and, no, no, they had no idea that everyone would see it.

Though it's entirely believable that Facebook and Twitter are full of touchingly heartless engineers who would dearly love for everyone to live as publicly as possible so that they can sell their information to as many advertisers as possible, there might be a little more to it than that.

Haven't Facebook and Twitter merely lucked into people's overwhelming desire for, well, fame? Once broadcast media-- you know the old-fashioned stuff like radio and TV-- proved that fame was a powerful, far-reaching and tangentially tangible currency, we all thought it might be nice to taste a piece of it.

How many of your Facebook friends seem to want their updates to be more interesting, more involving and more amusing those of anyone else in their group? How many of your Twitter community want to prove that they are reading something more important, more current, more intellectual than anyone else?

It's easy, and partly true, to declare that those creepily bright engineers have found ways to follow our every move and to tabulate our every preference. It's tempting to say they offer us tools that appear to help us communicate, but actually encourage us to expose more of ourselves than we might realize.

But somehow we asked for it. We wanted it, even if couldn't quite articulate what it was we wanted. And we didn't pay enough heed to Confucius or Eminem or whoever it was that warned us to be careful what we wished for.

We've got it now. The question for 2010 is: What are we really going to do with it? Perhaps you could ask your Facebook friends.

May I take this cheery opportunity to wish everyone a very happy New Year and thank everyone for their amusing, confusing and occasionally even touchingly insulting notes and comments in that Old Year that is happily behind us.