Living on display - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Living on display

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Posted: Sunday, August 6, 2006 7:57 am | Updated: 3:13 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Google Dave Feinman. Go ahead. Really. He wants you to. Type his name as one word and you will soon know a lot about him — through his home page and blog on MySpace and the Web site that bears his name.

He’s 27, engaged, Jewish, a Gemini and graduate student at the University of Central Florida who likes “Beavis and Butt-head.” He will soon be interning in the office of Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla. Coincidentally, Wexler’s office is the subject of a TV documentary series that premieres in August.

‘‘I don’t put anything on MySpace that I wouldn’t say to the face of anyone I meet,’’ says Feinman. The Internet is ‘‘a very good way to express my feelings about politics or personal things.’’

Feinman is a primo example of an emerging archetype: The very public citizen. A publizen.

MOST UNDER 30

Though publizens are all ages and both sexes, they are predominantly young — members of Generation Xtrovert. The recently released Pew Internet & American Life Project survey points out that more than half of the Internet’s 12 million bloggers are younger than 30.

In varying degrees, publizens grow up, fall in love, drink too much, do good deeds, experiment with drugs and sex and kinky hairstyles, sit for tattoos, enter 12-step programs, get hitched, give birth, go to work, file for divorce and do just about everything else in public. They build Web sites, produce blogs and star in reality television shows. They use new technologies to live in plain sight, and newer technologies — fancier phones, Web cams, digital video programs — are being created so they can do just that.

Publizens welcome the glare, the heat, the exposure. British papers reported recently that Marie Osmond’s teenage daughter Jessica put up a MySpace page revealing her sexual proclivities and listing Adolf Hitler as a hero. Young people have been kicked out of college for exhibiting pictures of themselves carousing.

People have given up on discretion. How else can you explain the unabashed bus rider yakking about the most intimate details of her life on her cell phone? The endless erectile dysfunction TV ads? The very personal videotapes online for all the world to see?

Tens of thousands have applied to live on camera in reality shows.

‘‘This generation wants to be known, they want to be famous,’’ Chris DeWolfe, a cofounder of MySpace.com, recently told Vanity Fair. ‘‘This generation is selfinvolved, but they’re also self-aware.’’

Don’t these people understand the value of privacy?

NO PRIVACY

‘‘You are assuming,’’ says Danah Boyd, a cultural anthropologist in the University of California at Berkeley’s doctorate program, ‘‘that today’s young people know privacy.’’

These days, Boyd points out, young people have little unstructured time where they can call the shots. When parents aren’t hawk-watching their every move, school administrators, coaches, therapists, even the media are. The children of baby boomers have learned to do everything under watchful eyes.

Bob Reno, 46, founded the for-profit BadJocks.com, a Web site dedicated to the stupidity and outrageousness of sports figures, in early 2000. Business, he says, is booming.

‘‘Public embarrassment has been the growth industry in the United States for the last few years,’’ he says. ‘‘You’ve got a generation that is growing up with digital cameras and camera phones, and they are encouraging each other and being encouraged by popular media and by the technology companies to document everything they do.’’

Browse through MySpace, with its more than 80 million uses worldwide, or Facebook and you believe that many don’t see anything strange about having their most shocking photos posted.

‘‘They just don’t see that behavior as abnormal,’’ Reno says. People are uploading pictures and videos of activities that several years ago might have only been committed clandestinely at a strip club or bachelorette party.

‘‘People would rather be embarrassed publicly than ignored privately,’’ Reno says.

NOT ENTIRELY NEW

You can trace the roots of publizenship back to cave painters, drawing sticklike pictures of themselves in pursuit of berries or bison or one another. Eventually artists discovered self-portraiture and patrons paid to have their faces plastered all over the place.

Living the out-in-the-open life picked up steam in the late 20th century. The 1960s were all about self-expression and sharing your inner self with the world. It was in a 1968 art catalog that Andy Warhol predicted, ‘‘In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.’’

In the early 1970s, an everyday California family, the Louds, let TV cameras into their lives on ‘‘An American Family.’’ The country watched in prime-time intensity as the family fell apart. In the 1970s, Tom Wolfe coined the phrase ‘‘The Me Decade.’’

In the early 1980s, camcorders were introduced and folks could record their lives for all to see. The popular embracing of the Internet and the unfurling of the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s allowed publizens to show off globally. In the late 1990s, Web designer Jennifer Ringley set up a webcam in her Washington apartment and charged people an annual fee to watch her live her everyday life.

Reality TV shows multiplied like mice. And with the advent of Web logs in the late 1990s and MySpace in 2000, the Internet became a worldwide showcase for exhibitionists and voyeurs. People watching people watching people.

CAN IT BE HEALTHY?

Perhaps letting it all hang out in public has a flip side, says Lynne Layton, professor of psychology at Harvard: ‘‘With all the running around that we all do all day and night, with the way middleclass kids are scheduled, are we perhaps killing off the capacity to have an inner life?’’

‘‘We’ve always been very public as a species,’’ says Kevin Kelly, a founding editor of Wired magazine. ‘‘The very notion of privacy is recent, and probably temporary. Big Brother is a type of paranoia and egoism, because in fact most lives are not worth watching. With technology we are only returning to the global village where everyone knows what everyone else is doing.’’

Cultural anthropologist Danah Boyd says living a public life can be healthy. In this culture of fear, ‘‘it is critical for young people to have some exposure to public life, to strangers,’’ she says. ‘‘You need this to grow up.’’

Publizens like Dave Feinman thrive on the responses to their public lives. The exterior life for many is as important as, if not more important than, the interior life.

So everybody is famous, everyone is a public figure. And every life is lived out in the open. Which changes a lot of things. Libel lawyers may find it harder to determine just who is a public figure and who is not. There soon could be more people in reality TV shows than watching them. The Hollywood celebrity hierarchy could topple as the common folk become as recognizable as the stars. And there could be a general sense spreading across the land that if it doesn’t happen in public, it doesn’t really happen.

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