Back in the early days of the Internet, a college student set up a webcam in her dorm room and delivered a live feed to the world of everything she was doing -- eating, sleeping, studying, even changing clothes. It caused quite a stir, with lots of beard-scratching commentary about how this new technology would transform our ideas about the private and public selves.
Although lots of people found the experiment interesting, no one thought that thousands of other people would be doing the same thing. But we may be inching in that direction. From today's New York Times:
Mark Brooks wants the whole Web to know that he spent $41 on an iPad case at an Apple store, $24 eating at an Applebee’s, and $6,450 at a Florida plastic surgery clinic for nose work.
Too much information, you say? On the Internet, there seems to be no such thing. A wave of Web start-ups aims to help people indulge their urge to divulge — from sites like Blippy, which Mr. Brooks used to broadcast news of what he bought, to Foursquare, a mobile social network that allows people to announce their precise location to the world, to Skimble, an iPhone application that people use to reveal, say, how many push-ups they are doing and how long they spend in yoga class.
So how far is too far? You might think that you'd have to be crazy to want to tell the world where you are at all times, yet Foursquare is apparently becoming quite popular (it inspired a since-deactivated site called pleaserobme.com, which assembled people's Foursquare feeds to tell you who wasn't at home so you could rob them). There's a rationale for Skimble -- if you know that your friends can see how much you exercised, then you'll be motivated to get on the treadmill. I suppose something similar could be at work for some people with Blippy -- if you're trying to get your spending under control, making your purchases public could help.
But I suspect that most of the people using these sights are just sharing for sharing's sake. So, is this insane? On one hand, you might argue that you don't mind telling hundreds of your friends and acquaintances, or even the entire world, where you are and what you've bought. But let's flip the question around: Why would you want to? What value do you receive from telling lots and lots of people, "I just bought a T-shirt and some toothpaste at Target"? The question isn't whether you want to keep these things secret but why you would want to reveal them.
And of course, why I could possibly care that you just bought a T-shirt and some toothpaste. Allow me to speak for the silent majority here: I don't. This sure seems to me like it's for people who would be using Twitter, but they have no actual thoughts to share. And lest you call me a fuddy-duddy, keep in mind that every hot new Interweb thing that comes down the pike isn't necessarily good. Some are idiotic. Just saying.
-- Paul Waldman