Help, I’m Telling Strangers My Secrets

Posted in Rambling by Celine on June 12, 2009

We complain about things like Facebook and Twitter impinging on our privacy, but I think that’s absurd because we are the ones providing details about our lives (including our relationship status, down to the minute of hook-up and break-up) on the web and showing them off to friends and “friends” and strangers.

If we don’t want someone to come inside our house, we can lock the door. Likewise, if we don’t want the information that we are foot fetishists to be known and used against us, we can make a conscious decision to not put it on our profiles. It’s as simple as that, especially since the Great and Almighty Corporation of Facebook can’t jump out of our screens and learn what we did last weekend with a bong and eight shots of tequila, so long as we don’t tell them. On the other hand, any trespasser or hooligan can break through our windows and get inside our homes, so really they aren’t that bad in comparison.

We are the exhibitors of our personal information, the ones typing it all up. We are the invaders of our own privacy. We can’t pretend not to know this because it’s so obvious.

I think we feel inclined to blame Facebook for everything, because of the cognitive dissonance (psychological tension caused by one’s own contradicting attitude and behaviour) that occurs when we use tools like Facebook or Twitter. We are torn between our powerful exhibitionistic urges and our ideological appreciation of privacy — and this confuses and makes us feel uncomfortable.

Take me, for example. If someone asked me, “do you value your privacy?” I’d say I do, absolutely. The public has no business in what I am doing with myself and I wholeheartedly believe that.

But I am obviously an exhibitionist. I am easily tempted to reveal intimate facts about myself to the public. That’s why I blog it, Twitter it, Facebook it, and Tumblr it. I discuss, elaborate, analyze, narrate, and illustrate how my day went, all in the extreme public sphere of the Internet. Even offline, I make friends and tell them more than I should. I beg them to be involved in my private life.

In fact, upon further introspection, my exhibitionism seems to run even deeper. Although in my sane mind I think stalking is incredibly creepy, I find with a shudder that secretly and unconsciously I want people to be interested in me enough to stalk me. I want people to care about the mundane things I do and monitor my every move. I want strangers to recognize me and have forum discussions about my thoughts, beliefs, and actions. It sometimes gives me exquisite chills to receive comments on my blog entry or a status update on one of my many social networking sites.

When that happens, I cannot believe how much of a freak and hypocrite I am.

For someone who says she values her privacy, I sure spend a lot of my time exposing myself. I whine about people disrespecting my personal space, but I am the one that doesn’t give a damn about it, telling everyone about her darkest secrets and oral hygiene.

And it really makes me want to blame Facebook and Twitter and blog and Tumblr (that I signed up for out of my own free will) that make it that easy for me to do so. I want to say, “damn you, Internet! You are making me invade my privacy in a really user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing way!”

Maybe our culture’s obsession with fame has turned me into this off-putting attention whore. Damn you, western civilization! But of course I don’t think it is a simple as that. We can’t just blame the generalized “our culture” and become free of personal blame for being what we are.

Instead, I think we should gather the courage to ask the question: Why do we come up with increasingly better ways to expose ourselves (i.e. Facebook, then Twitter) all the while complaining about our personal space being spat on? Why do we want everyone to know that our teeth hurt today and that we should really go see a dentist?

I want to argue here that it is because our entire worldview is built around the idea that openness and communication is awesome, that open door policies are a good and healthy thing (even if it opens doors to the riff-raffs too), that knowing is the first step to understanding and empathy (even if too much information is annoying), and that truth is infinitely productive (even at its most destructive). And I think we are right to believe these things.

Privacy is only offered behind locked doors. But when no one is free to come inside your personal sphere – sticking their nose in matters of your thoughts, attitudes, and actions – no real dialogue can occur. No dialogue means no movement, no change, no solutions and no real understanding of others or even ourselves. Dialogue and social interaction is crucial for individual growth and a healthy community. Don’t trust anyone who tells you otherwise because they are either a coward or your enemy.

I think because many of us understand this fact, consciously or unconsciously, we are quickly seduced by the idea of unlocking the door. And it makes perfect sense to bust it open and invite people in, because what kind of life is it to live it by ourselves? Although we shouldn’t be forced to reveal secrets we do not want to reveal (unless of course the secret in question is the location of the bomb or hostages or victims of a kidnap or bodies of the murdered victims), we might eagerly choose to for the breath of fresh air. On a purely experiential level, when we share what’s on our minds, it feels good – and of course there are effective therapies built around this fact.

So we undress and reveal ourselves! Watch me! Please watch me!

And it’s exhilarating to be naked and watched. But then we feel embarrassed and guilty about our nakedness, because we stigmatize exhibitionistic behavior as imprudent and inappropriate. So when someone (sometimes ourselves) point out this inner paradox, we make a scapegoat out of Facebook and Twitter. Damn you, you useful tools with which we indulge our twisted appetite for exposure!

But I would like to take this opportunity to defend these effective hammers against the walls between us. Privacy is important, but so is openness. Self-indulgent and excessive exhibitionism is annoying, but we can just say “I don’t care” or “Too much information” to that and move on. In the form of considerate openness (not in-your-face aggressive revelations), however, I think self-exposure should be encouraged. I think twittering can be wonderfully healthy.

(Published in the first edition of Konekt Magazine, Fall 2009)

22 Responses

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  1. Raymond Leung said, on June 19, 2009 at 6:07 am


    why do we, as a species…but perhaps more accurately, as North-American fairly affluent people…insist on living these paradoxes? OR oxymoronic-style lives?

    lol, moron.
    (not you, just sayin’ in general. Yo)


  2. Forest Griffin said, on March 11, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    This article mad me feel like Chuck after the Rashad Evans fight..knocked out…so boring

    • Celine said, on March 11, 2010 at 9:21 pm

      That’s too bad. What would have made you more interested?

  3. kaitlyn said, on March 11, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    We as humans derive attention and seek the reaction in others, without realising the impact that it will have on us…

    We are responsible for what we post on the internet and we ARE responsible enough to accept the consequences..evidently i agree with this article.

    • Celine said, on March 11, 2010 at 9:45 pm

      Yes, I agree! Internet needs to be used responsibly.

  4. Jennifer Burriss said, on March 11, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    “Although in my sane mind I think stalking is incredibly creepy, I find with a shudder that secretely and unconsciously I want people to be interested in me enough to stalk me”. Have you ever read the Alexandra Scarlett story? She was bombarded with hundreds of messages on the social networking website, Facebook, after she refused to out out with Jason Smith. He threatened to rape her mother, shot her father and slash her face. He was given a 12-month suspended jail sentence. But, just a month after the hearing, he used aliases to send more Facebook messages to the 20-year-old, and her mother. After the case, Miss. Scarlett told the M.E.N. that she has spent the past two years living in fear. Social networking websites give you a false sense of security, and there is nothing “healthy” about that.

    • Celine said, on March 11, 2010 at 9:23 pm

      Elaborate what you mean by false sense of security? Also, link to this article?

  5. Mac said, on March 11, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    “We are the invaders of our own personal privacy”. Nothing could be closer to the truth. I completely agree with this statement, if we dont have the time or patience to care about what we are saying or posting on the internet, and in turn, the world, the consequences are deserved and justified.

    • Celine said, on March 11, 2010 at 9:48 pm

      Yes, I agree! I think we need to be more conscious of our own usage.

  6. Bailey said, on March 11, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Privacy isn’t so bad. It’s nice to sometimes have something to keep to yourself. What you had for breakfast, that you are bored and that your foot hurts are not pieces of earth shattering news. If you really truly value your privacy you can keep it, its called will power.

    • Celine said, on March 11, 2010 at 9:28 pm

      So do you think mundane experiences like the fact that you are bored and that your foot hurts are undeserving of being shared? Or do you just choose not to share that because it’s annoying?

  7. Nicole Sheffield said, on March 11, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    I do agree that we are responsible for what we post on the internet, and for that reason I strongly disagree with your thesis that such exhibitionist behaviour is healthy. This is not healthy because anyone can get a hold of this information and when you said “It’s exhilirating to be naked and watched.” How can that be healthy, to expose that kind of information to the public eye? Also, when you said, “No dialogue means no movement, no change, no solutions, and no real understanding of others or even ourselves.” (page 2, paragraph 5). Do you honestly believe that the internet is the only way to have a conversation effectively? No, people have face to face conversations all the time.

    • Celine said, on March 11, 2010 at 9:43 pm

      I certainly do not think we should give up everything about ourselves online. And yes, we certainly have face-to-face conversations all the time and it is still, personally, my favourite type of conversation.

      However, online, I can really easily talk to my friends who have moved away. I can stay in touch with people that I don’t see anymore. I can talk to people who are not in my immediate proximity and meet people from all over the world, in the comfort of my room. I can talk to people from different countries, with different experiences and ideas. I think this is valuable, don’t you?

  8. Taylor Myers said, on March 11, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    I Feel You are insecure due to the fact you used Quotes like “Nakedness, foot fetishists, bongs and tequilla”, so i dont know about you but i think you had something on your mind; or you are just undermining teens.

    • Celine said, on March 12, 2010 at 5:02 am

      Hi Taylor, I do not actually understand what you mean by “insecure”? My talk of nakedness, foot fetishism, bongs and tequila are examples to aid my argument and I don’t know what you mean by “quote”? What do you think I have on my mind? How have I undermined teens?

      This whole comment makes little sense at the moment. Clarify?

  9. jordan bain said, on March 11, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    I think your articl was poorly written because you used no facts or examples( other than Yourself) to back up your idea. but in the end i did agree with your thesis that we as people want to be notice.

    • Celine said, on March 11, 2010 at 9:32 pm

      Not every article requires citations! This is closer to an opinion piece than a full out article and I think I achieved my purpose if you ended up agreeing with my thesis in spite of my lack of numbers — but you are right, I could have used some numbers to really hammer in my point.

      But what kind of numbers would have improved this article?

  10. devyn said, on March 11, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    you suck

    • Celine said, on March 11, 2010 at 9:46 pm

      Elaborate? What didn’t you like?

  11. Ms. Cavers said, on March 22, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Hi Celine,
    My grade eleven class read your article as part of our study of persuasive writing & rhetorical devices. I just wanted to thank you so much for, firstly, your article, and also for your willingness to discuss your ideas with the class. You provided us with an excellent springboard into a discussion about internet privacy, persuasive writing techniques, and even ageism & related stereotypes! Thanks for your positive & constructive comments; your work has been a really valuable part of our learning and a great hands-on, authentic experience. Thanks for putting it out there!

    • Celine said, on March 22, 2010 at 8:11 pm

      Hi Ms Cavers,

      Thank you so much for this message and I really am honoured to have aided in their learning. I was so surprised that this piece was chosen to begin with, given its topic and tone! Some of their comments were insightful and I was surprised when no one responded back? But thank you again for directing them towards the article!

  12. 2010 in review « E L L E P H A N T A said, on January 5, 2011 at 4:27 am

    […] Help, I’m Telling Strangers My Secrets June 2009 21 comments 4 […]

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