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Murch: Privacy vs. public consumption

October 19, 2012
Steve Murch - Managing Editor , The Alpena News

What's private and what's for public consumption anymore? We are in an age where it seems like everyone wants to know everyone else's business. Or feel they need to know.

On top of wanting to know everybody's business, it seems like everyone feels the need to share everything about themselves - Facebook, Twitter, and the likes thrive on people sharing what you've done, what you are doing, what you are planning to do. Not everyone puts their whole life out there, but you can find out a heck of a lot about someone from looking through their social media postings.

If you are in the public eye, you will face extra scrutiny. Some of it is necessary - political figures' actions, etc. - but some of it is entirely not. Gossip magazines and websites thrive on the indiscretions (real or imagined) of celebrities (real or imagined).

Those magazines that have been around a while, affectionately (?) known as rags, are almost a staple in American life. Since the explosion in growth of the Internet, the gossip websites have some of the biggest readership.

Why? What is it that makes us as a society feel the need to know the dumb stuff about people? More importantly, what is it that makes us feel the need to share all that dumb stuff with each other?

In the TV business they have a phrase for when a show begins its decline, when it loses quality beyond recovery. It comes from a Happy Days episode when Fonzie jumps a shark in the show's fifth season.

For me, the moment when society jumped the shark and the blurry line between public consumption and keeping things private was in 1992. It may have been a slow train coming, but now that loaded freight train is going down hill with no breaks. When it crashes there will be a lot of casualties.

It was an eight word phrase. A funny little question that showed we don't have boundaries anymore. Or, if we did have them, they were soon going to diminish.

During an MTV Rock the Vote event during the 1992 presidential campaign, Laetitia Thompson uttered the phrase to then-candidate Bill Clinton that drew chuckles, applause, shudders, embarrassment, smiles ... a whole range of reactions.

"All the world's dying to know - boxers or briefs?"

You know what, I wasn't dying to know, and I'm quite certain the whole world wasn't dying to know. I don't need to know what kind of underwear the president or soon-to-be-president or any other person wears.

Pizza Hut backed off on its offer during this week's presidential town hall debate for the first person to ask "pepperoni or sausage." But even with backing out of the stunt, it shows we don't have any boundaries anymore. It might have been a totally innocuous question, but it's another case where we don't draw boundaries where there should be some.

And that's where the whole public consumption vs. private life debate comes back in.

I don't have Facebook. Publisher Bill Speer and I discuss Facebook every so often because The News has an account and it's another way to reach readers. We used it to find people to profile for our cancer supplement; we have a photo contest every week - Facebook Friday; we have other plans for down the road.

For me, it's not something I will do. I don't think any less of people who use it, though I do cringe at some of the stuff people post. I can't believe what people are willing to post - and don't kid yourself for even a moment, older adults don't have much of a filter anymore either.

I have friends, who if I believe they need to know something, I tell them. I'm a private person. My sister has even joked that she has been surprised at finding out someone I dated before. Something people need to know, some they don't. While I know you can do that on Facebook, I just choose not to be part of it.

I had an email exchange with a friend this week about privacy and public consumption, and she's of the same thinking to a degree. She does have a Facebook account, but is pretty tight with what she puts out there.

There are times I wish more people were.

 
 

 

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