I’ve heard the word used. I am not sure what it means. I think I once agreed to share all my personal information on Facebook with an app called Privacy Is Important, but I might be getting privacy and irony confused again.
People keep mentioning it in conjunction with the primary process. “This vetting is ridiculous,” they say. “Poor Herman Cain! It’s practically proctological! No one needs this sort of detail about anyone!”
“That is so true!” I murmur.
My mind is elsewhere. I am trying to decide whether it would send the wrong message to click “Like” on these colonoscopy images someone has just posted on Facebook.
“We ought to be upset about all these violations of privacy,” they mutter. “Anyone who would be willing to share this sort of information is not the sort of person who ought to be in a position of public trust.”
“Er,” I say.
Maybe it’s time to take down those spring break pictures.
Gore Vidal said that “Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so.”
The process can be brutal. Political life used to attract the best and brightest — well, in theory, at any rate. Now look at it. These are people whose unifying characteristic is that they were too homely and not quite diverse enough to make it on reality television. You throw your hat into the ring only if you don’t think you did anything too wild in your youth. Which rules out the best and brightest from the get-go.
“I don’t want people poking through unflattering pictures of me, accounts of my misspent youth, and angry diatribes from people I once dated!” Good, Viable Candidates say.
Have you visited Facebook lately?
A tiny ticker in the corner of the screen is informing me what everyone I know is typing, listening to, reading, and (if you read between the lines) dating.
And I don’t even notice.
The argument has long been made that if candidates were entitled to a measure of privacy, we’d get a better class of elected official.
But growing up in a generation where privacy was just something you gave up in order to maintain a robust Facebook presence, I have to wonder.
In general, our love of oversharing is so often unrequited. “Here is information about my feelings, what I cooked for dinner, a vague but passive-aggressive note directed at someone who just took me on an unsatisfactory date, and a picture of the tattoo I recently got on my lower leg to express my sympathy with things that look sort of like turtles.”
Nobody notices. No one even clicks “Like.”
Just another day in the life of Generation Overshare. Share is a good word. True, sharing is generally indistinguishable from Telling People Who Didn’t Want To Know. But it sounds nicer.
Yesterday I discovered someone sifting through my trash. I was elated. “Am I making it into the big-time?” I asked. “Are you gleaning unsettling revelations for the TMZ article?”
He frowned. It turned out he was just looking for a squirrel to capture and eat with his hands. “You people sicken me,” he said.
Older people have this idea that there is such a thing as too much information. That if you say something stupid, you don’t want thousands of people to read about it immediately.
Behave stupidly in public, in front of the cameras? That’s how you make it big.
So these complaints that this cruel process forces candidates to sacrifice their privacy leave us cold. Keep things private? What are you, undersocialized? Privacy is just something you have to remind you that you aren’t famous.
Tell everyone everything all the time? Naturally! Of course a reality TV show is the next logical step for a presidential candidate. Live by the overshare, die by the overshare. But Sarah Palin, so far, has been the only candidate to embrace it.
And she revealed the flip side. Share enough and eventually we stop caring.
The trouble is that we are still holding people to outdated standards of behavior (“Of course they are outdated,” Alan Bennett would say. “That is what makes them standards.”) I can count the people from my Facebook acquaintances without theoretically career-ending blunders in plain sight on one hand. If we keep our current standards, the pickings will be slim but odd.
But the standard will have to shift soon. W. Somerset Maugham wrote that there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with shock and horror. The same goes for Facebook profiles. But the only thing worse than having one is not having one.
We are amassing a paper trail that would have made investigative reporters of the past weep tears of joy. It’s practically an arms race, and we’re the ones stockpiling the bombs to take ourselves down. It’s mutually assured destruction — or, more probably, mutually assured indifference. Eventually, we’ll have so much information about everyone that it will cease to be interesting. Rand Paul once urged a woman to worship something called the Aqua Buddha, and he’s a senator now.
“I can’t think of anything you could say that would make me think less of you,” we‘ll say. We’ll hold our noses and vote, as usual.