Being Alive: Voyeurism, Social Networking, and Losing Your Soul to the Internet

The internet has exploded in recent years with a phenomenon called “Social Networking”. Sites like Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, YouTube, Blogspot, digg and a host of others have made it extremely cool for people sharing the personal, intimate details of their life online with minimum privacy.

Until recently, a peeping tom was someone who would skulk around in the shadows and peer into open windows. Today, we have a new breed of peeping toms (and tom-ettes), those who just poke into everyone else’s business via the ‘open window’ of their social network.

Today, however, I don’t want to blog about online privacy (did that already), but I wanted to offer that as a background to a more basic human problem – that of observing life so much that you stop participating in it.

I recently watched a Stephen Sondheim musical called “Company”, a show about a 35 year old single man named Robert and the zany married friends he is surrounded with. During the show, he stays on stage for the whole production while all of the people and elements of the production swarm around him. The dialog of the show is very disjointed and disconnected. Lines are often incomplete sentences that don’t always build on the thought before it. We often catch people and situations in mid phrase, and we never feel like we’re getting a full picture of anything.

Near the end of the show, Bobby has an epiphany (brought on by being propositioned by his much older and very married lady friend) in which he realizes that he needs to stop being an observer of others lives and start participating in his own. In this moment he figures out that all of the excuses he had used were really just a mask for the very real anxieties he felt about taking a chance on living his own life.

When he begins this song he is considering all those reasons why he didn’t want to get married, but watch for the shift that occurs halfway through when he realizes that all those excuses now become the very substance of life that he realizes he is missing out on:

[flashvideo filename=video/beingalive.flv /]

If there’s one thing the blogging phenomenon has done, it’s got people thinking about their own lives more by constant pontificating and expounding upon them. At the end of the day, though, a person’s blog and social networks are simply outward expressions of the way they’d like the world to view them. Some just post photos of their family, others engage in diarrhea of the mouth and just write everything they ever think or feel, while yet others are limited and calculated.

So what happens in the gap between how we represent ourselves to others and who we really are as people? I think we lose a little bit of ourselves in that gap, especially when we almost inevitably start becoming that person we are working so hard to paint publicly. We’re running the risk of actually become more concerned with the representation of ourselves than we are with our actual souls themselves.

…And thus we die a little every day.

(wow… that was kind of depressing for a last line of the blog, but really that’s just an allusion to another great Sondheim song “Every Day a Little Death”)

5 thoughts on “Being Alive: Voyeurism, Social Networking, and Losing Your Soul to the Internet”

  1. Um, wow. Are you trying to shame all of us that read your blog into not reading reading your blog? I can do that. I can stop reading your blog if that makes you feel better, give you some privacy. Also, do I know need to delete my blog and cancel my Facebook account so as to not misrepresent myself to the public or my friends?

    Iā€™m now paranoid.

  2. Wow! Deep Thoughts By Samuel!!! It’s a little too deep for me, so I’m just going to live in denial for now and pretend like I never read this post. šŸ™‚

  3. A pretty moving post… but, I prefer to expound upon the dark side of social
    networking – when real people become voyeurs, as you put it “skulking” behind
    their computer screens to obsessively observe the lives of others.

    It’s a truth so few admit, but many of us live out everyday on these sites.

    Frightening for the observed, but even more destructive for the observer.

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