Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The death of secrets

S I've wandered through the constellation of actual blogs (as opposed to spam factories and thinly-disguised storefronts), I've noticed what seems to me to be a singularly disturbing trend -- the tendency of bloggers, especially younger ones, to reveal intimate personal details to absolute strangers. There are people who give out their addresses and phone numbers online, people who post publicly-accessible photos of themselves wearing little or nothing, people who update Facebook and Twitter from inside public lavatories, people who give out blow-by-blow re-enactments of the last night's sexual encounter. The blogosphere is awash in TMI.

No, I'm not turning a blind eye to my own tendencies in this direction. This blog is called "CONFESSIONS of a Laundry Faerie," after all. Although I usually try to keep it light, over time it's come to be chock-full of personal information. Even so, there are some things I simply won't reveal here -- things that I truly believe are nobody's business but my own.

The confessional nature of our era encourages people to throw clods of information at each other. Witness the proliferation of meme lists (as Gretel points out, they should probably be called "me-me lists") like "100 books I've read" and "25 things I've eaten" and "20 BEST SONGS EVAR" and "68.3 fascinating facts about me." Yes, I've done these too; some of them are even posted here. They're seductive; it's fun to share such information, and these lists make you think you've learned something of interest about the person who's filled them out. But what have you really learned, apart from a collection of bullet-point trivia? It's like the difference between getting lost in the nuances of a wonderful book and skimming through the Cliff Notes. Part of the pleasure of making friends is the slow, gradual process of getting to know a person thoroughly -- and likewise, the process of cautiously unfurling one's external being and allowing the other person to catch glimpses of one's inner self. Part of the joy of making a true friend is recognizing when you can tell someone else a deeply-hidden secret, and know that it will be as safe in that person's hands as it was in yours. But how can that particular joy ever be obtained if you grow up in a culture that doesn't even understand what a secret is, let alone why someone would want to keep it?

I've known my mother my entire life. Like most people in my family, she's good at telling stories about all sorts of life experiences. Until fairly recently I was sure I knew about every major event in her life, including some highly personal information. And then Mom's sister came to visit, and while they were happily reminiscing on the couch together my auntie just asked a question in passing -- something like "Whatever happened to that one boy you were going to marry?" I was pretty sure I knew who she meant; after all, Mom had told us that she'd considered marriage a few times before she met Dad. But to my shock, in response to the question, my mother suddenly began to cry. I sat quietly and listened, and heard for the first time about her first true love in college, about their engagement, and about how her parents flew out from California and forced her to break it off because they didn't approve of him. It was a revelation.

My mother comes from a different generation -- one which recognizes, for the most part, that some things are simply too personal and private to share with the world. She understands the concept of the secret. I wonder how many people of my generation and younger could even recognize this concept, much more know how to apply it.

And speaking of not being able to keep secrets: today is my 40th birthday.


PG said...

Happy Birthday Sooz! I agree about the mememe aspect of blogs - I have done them rarely and now never - there is a large chunk of my life I like to keep private (no, I don't swing from a chandelier in frillies smoking cigars). And I am not interested in listing 100 facts about myself, and would feel highly conceited if I expected others to read all it. I can't imagine why so many people assume that people DO want to know. Maybe it is a sign of our ego driven times. Something your mum - and mine, for that matter, would never comprehend and good for that.

Wendy Jean said...

Elna Baker talked about this a bit when being questioned about her comedy. Because her comedy is mostly stories from her own life, how does she protect herself? The answer is not to share things that she hasn't worked through yet. Not to share things are still raw. I think this is good advice!