Authors@Google: Hal Niedzviecki

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 25.08.2009

>> Hello, and welcome to another Authors at Google Talk coming to you from Irvine, California.
Today, we are welcoming Hal Niedzviecki. Hal is the founder of Broken Pencil magazine and
has published numerous works of social commentary and fiction including: Hello, I'm Special:
How Individuality Became the New Conformity, and We Want Some Too: Underground Desire and
the Reinvention of Mass Culture. Follow Hal on his blog, The Peep Diaries. Welcome, Hal.
>> NIEDZVIECKI: Thank you very much. It's nice to be here. So, the story of this book,
The Peep Diaries: How We're Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors, really
starts about four years ago when I become a father, and my social life starts to, you
know, take a precipitous downturn. I used to go out, and then all of a sudden I didn't
go out. Any one who has had that experience knows what I'm talking about. So social life
was diminished a lot of my "hipster" friends who were no longer my friends, and this is
what things started to look like. Pretty much, there's me, and that's me with my back hair.
There's the child. She does not yet have back hair. She will hopefully take after her mother
in that regard. So, yeah, basically, the social life is diminishing to the point where I began
to think that, really, I didn't have too many friends, I start to wonder if I had any friends.
As, you know, you get more into the daddy thing and everything just kind of changes.
At the same time, I was starting to get into things like Facebook, and Twitter, and these
kinds of things which, you know, it all kind of flirted with, you know, Friendster or whatever,
but no one really got seriously into it. And I was developing a lot of friends on that.
That was my social life again. That was me at the park. You can see, I'm looking happy,
not. And like, where did my life go? Right, so, I am basically, spending a lot of time
at home with the kid, and I'm online a lot. And, at one point, I noticed that, hey, you
know, good old Hal has 700 friends on Facebook but he doesn't actually have any friends in
real life. That's so sad. It's such a sad life. So I had this genius idea which was
that I would have a Facebook party, and I would invite all my Facebook friends to come
and meet me at a local bar, and we would get to know each other and I would, I would resuscitate
my social life which is basically on complete life support. And I needed to pull the wires
out and like "zzzzzzzz" on Hal's social life which was, you know, every time I left the
house, my wife was like, "Where are you going? And where are you taking the baby?" So, okay,
so, I decided I'm going to have this Facebook party, and I go ahead and I invite all, whatever,
700 Facebook friends that I have at that time. And I'll say, "You know, I want you to meet
me at this local bar around the corner of my house. I'm buying, come out, and we'll
hang out." And I send this invitation note and I got, I got a pretty good response, about
30 people said they were may be coming, about 15 people said they were for sure coming,
and, you know, a couple of hundred just said no, and just ignored me. So, there I am, I'm
at the bar. I've informed the bar that, you know, I've got between 20 and 30 people coming
to my Facebook party, and I'm ready for action. See, I put my nice shirt on. I comb my hair.
I shaved, just more than I can say. Now, I just flew in from Chicago and I got all that--I
can't bring razors and shaving cream, and everything. So I'm a little unkempt today.
Joe, forgive me. So, I'm waiting for my friends to show up, "Oh-oh, where are they?" No, no
one showed up yet, it's getting dark. There's me. As you can see, I have run through a few
beverages at this point, things are starting to--I was starting to wonder what's going
on exactly. So, no one's there. I'm waiting. I'm waiting. And, oh, there we go. My Facebook
friend is showing up Paula. Unfortunately, she is the only the person who shows up to
my Facebook party. So, only one person shows up of the 700 invited. Paula, she's very sweet.
She has a boyfriend. She plays some form of sport which I forgot right now. She works
in customer service. She read one of my books, thought it'd be nice to meet me. And, you
know, so we had this nice talk except that I kept, like, kind of, apologizing from the
fact that I invited her to a party, and, in fact, I was the only member of the party.
And I kept kind of looking over my shoulder every time the door opens, praying that someone
else would arrive to save us from this socially awkward moment. But that never happened. Nobody
else arrived, and it was just me and Paula, and then Paula, you know, finished the drink
that I bought her, and announced that she was now going home. So, so that brought me
to a kind of weird inspirational moment, if you can call it like, "the inspirational moment."
There I am, Paula has left now. So I'm back to drinking beer on my own. I'm an impressive
fellow. I can drink a lot of beer on my own. Right. So, I had this, kind of, this moment
where I began to think, you know, we're not using these social networks for what we claim
we're using them for which is to meet people, and connect and deepen our friendships, and
make new friends. Then, what exactly are we using them for, and--oh, there' me going home.
There I am. I'm done. I [INDISTINCT]. They threw me out of the bar. They were like, "Hal,
no one else is coming." That's it. You're out of there. Okay, so, I began to think that,
in fact, most of us claim that we're using, you know, Facebook, and other social network
and sites to connect, to make friends, and deepen friendship. But I began to think that,
in fact, maybe we were also doing something else which was basically, kind of watching
each other, the way we watch television, sort of, moving through people's lives. And I formulated
this theory that we're moving from a pop culture to a peep culture. And in pop culture, we
derived our entertainment from watching celebrities perform. And in peep culture, we are deriving
our entertainment from watching people go about their lives, go about their ordinary
lives. And, obviously, the elements of peep culture include things like, reality TV, like
blogging, social networks, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. So, here, we have my little chart
here, the pop versus peep chart. So, Pop: Stars Have Talent. Peep: Who Needs Talent?
Pop: The Lives of Celebrities are interesting. Peep: I'm Interesting And So Are you. Pop:
When Will They Discover Me? Peep: Too Late. I've Already Discovered Myself. And, you know,
it's kind of funny that this will--I guess, this is going to be on YouTube, at some point,
right. So, it's like all these clips I stole from YouTube are going to go back on YouTube
in some sort of twisted way. Okay. So, there's three kind of peep culture that I've identified.
We just saw--this is peeping ourselves. This is, again, a video I took from YouTube, that
is--this girl, and she talks about different parts of her body as she goes through, and
talks about her feet and her hands, and this created a bunch of copycat videos, perhaps,
in the hundreds, maybe even the thousands of similar talks of people showing different
parts of their body, and discussing their feelings about them. So, this is one kind
of peeping ourselves, obviously, there are many others. Again, you know, we have blogs.
We have what we do in Facebook; we have the information we put out on Twitter. We have
all these different ways that we peep ourselves. So here's a quote from Julie Allison who was
on the cover of Wire and sort of featured as being one of the, the great--a kind of
Web 2.0 net celebrities. And she told Wire about herself peeping, "I treat it like a
fire. You have to add blogs, or there'll be like one of those YouTube videos that flame
out." And after the article came out in Wire, she wrote, you know, on her blog, "The irony,
of course, is that publicity is a full-time job. I did over two dozen print interviews
and 350 television segments in the last year. I taught my brain to think in sound bites.
In PR, nothing speak, to project authority on subjects, I have no real knowledge about.
It's a game that I'm a bit tired of playing it. Now, I need to unlearn much of that."
So, I thought that was a really interesting observation on these whole phenomena of, kind
of, peeping yourself that you become really involved in it, and it's kind of something
that becomes very hard to unlearn. So now, we have peeping each other which is my, sort
of, second category of peep culture. Here, this guy is going to walk over and you can't
really see the news--there's a newspaper at the foot of the driveway, and he's going to
walk over and he's going to kick the newspaper behind that couch being put out for the garbage,
and he's going to bend off--bend down and grab it and run away. Which, you know, it's
amusing to watch in its own right, but what's really interesting to me about this, of course,
is that the neighbor whose newspaper is being stolen is filming this to put up on YouTube
or wherever. So instead of maybe going out and saying, "Hey, why are you stealing my
newspaper? We have problem," we're peeping each other. We're creating entertainment out
of these weird moments in life. This is the naked wizard. He was wearing some sort of
wizard outfit before he decided to take it off in a moment of--perhaps, incoherent, spontaneous
happiness. Anyway, the police are eventually going to wrestle him to the ground, handcuff
him and taser the shit out of him which is unfortunate but not really the reason we're
watching this. As you can--you might notice, as his situation intensifies more and more
people gather around behind him and this is at the Coachella Music Festival. So, more
and more people are gathered around behind him, and they're filming him. And the more
violent the situation gets, the more it escalates, the more people are watching this, which again
is, I think, a symptom of peep culture. It's part of the way peep culture works that we
watch each other, we are peeping each other, and then we sort of move away from getting
actually involved in situations in environments. We just tend to sort of sit back and watch.
So then, there's this third category, Peeped by 'The Other' which is this whole world of
search engines, corporations, different kinds of entities that make--that facilitate peeping,
that make it easy for people to peep on each other, and do peeping themselves, obviously.
Google is part of that category. And this is Pipl which, I don't know, some sort of
Google rip-off, I guess, that does Pipl. Anyway, I put my name into Pipl and it kind of provides
me with a list in categories of different ways, different information you can find Hal
and I'm sure that there are people in this room who can tell me how this works a lot
better than, I mean, I have no clue how it works. But, all I know is the kind of social
effects of it. So there is some of the results of when I put my name in. It's like every
picture I've ever had put up on the Internet comes up, all different links and blogs and--basically,
tons of information about Hal and it's neatly ordered, so there's different, you know, categories
of find Hal, you know, locate Hal, various variations on locating, finding, and accessing
Hal. That's a lot of Hal. I don't know who would ever want to do that. But--so this is
the, this is kind of being peeped by the other which is a kind of, peep culture facilitating
of peep making it happen, collecting this information, amalgamating it, organizing it.
Here's another category of peeping by the other. This is net detective obviously, you
can go online, and I ordered net detective search on my father for $34.95, I believe
it was. I was going to do myself, but I live in Canada, so they wanted $350, so I was like,
"Fine, do dad." And, again, you get, a dossier that's not that dissimilar from what you get
on Pipl which is, kind of, just, you know, everything that there is to know about my
father. It's a little bit more precise through Net Detective. You get his mortgage; how much
he owes on the house; what income bracket he's in; if he's retired or not; how many
kids he has. All of these different categories, and, you know, this is a sort of weird entertainment
that we access, if we so choose. And this is part of--this rise of peep culture that
we can go and do these things for, you know, they're pretty much the same costs as a movie
and popcorn. It was actually really funny because when I got the net detective information,
there's this one part that was like, criminal, you know, criminal report. I was all excited.
I was like, "Now, I'm finally going to find out the truth about dad." So I tear and open
this piece of paper, and it's like speeding ticket. Like, that was not, you know, that
was not impressive for me. I thought, dad maybe had like a third life or even a second
life would've sufficed to make dad more interesting. Come on, dad. Get going. Where is your fifth
wife? And I don't know; your entire career as a Canadian secret service agent. Anyway,
okay, right, so in Peepville, we watch ourselves and each other; it's what we do. Obviously,
in the book--I said I'm on this sort of quest to understand why we're suddenly so interested
in peeping; why we're moving from pop culture to peep culture with such reckless abandon.
So I start to explore some of the people who do peep. This is, Lisa Sargese, who is a woman
who blogs, and video blogs about her life. She started blogging about four years ago,
I think, when she was about to have gastric bypass surgery. She's morbidly obese, could
barely kind of stand, and so she was going in for the surgery, and right before that,
she started to seriously blog about her experiences. So this is, obviously, someone who has been
peeping herself very, very seriously over the last four years. So I'll read a little
bit, this is from her blog, and she writes on her blog, "My story doesn't matter, at
least, I don't think my story mattered until folks started to thank me for sharing it.
My fear, my low self-esteem, my aversion to exposure and confrontation made me want to
hide. For years, I did hide. I hid behind a mountain of fat. I'm still fat, at least,
by society standards. No one takes into consideration that I can walk from my classroom to my car
without sitting three or four times. No one looks at my big ass and applauds me for getting
off it. No one is sympathizing with my impending reconstructive surgery to cut off all the
inevitable loose skin. No one does until I tell my story." And this is the video that
she put up right after getting the surgery, and you can see that she's really, you know,
showing everything, not hiding anything. And that's the video that's linked to her blog
and up on YouTube. So, talking to Lisa made me really realized just how kind of affirming
peep culture can be, this idea of no one is going to care about my story unless I tell
it; unless I put it in front of people and say, "Look at me. This is what I'm going through.
You need to pay attention with my story." At the same time, I noticed an evolution on
her blog where she's kind of starts off wanting to connect, wanting to tell her story, and
hopefully, help other people. And then, as she moves on, she becomes really, very focused
on the idea that she has a following that she is, perhaps, moving on to a career as
a kind of self-help guru. And so, later on in her blog, I noticed a couple of years later,
she writes, "What is this drive I have to be some bad ass, rock star celebrity. I don't
know why I want more. I just do." So, she very quickly, kind of, illustrates--I think,
the addictive nature of peep culture, just how much having some followers who are, who
seem to be interested in the mundane details of your life becomes a powerful feeling, an
empowering feeling for you. And now, she really talks about wanting to become the Oprah Winfrey
of, you know, people who go through gastric bypass surgery. So another person I met who
is in this category of seriously being a peep participant, this is Amalyn. She does a video
blog about her life, you saw her there, about to have her, her daughter. And she started
the blog right around that time, and she told me that she was lonely and that she's a young
woman and none of her friends were sharing this experience with her 'cause they, of course,
were off to college or whatever. It's not very common for 20-year-olds now to have kids.
And she told me that her blog is a way for her to reach out, and connect with people
and, kind of, break out of her loneliness. So I'm going to read you a quote. This is
a discussion that ran alongside one of her videos that she posted. And it was video talking
about her life that, in which she was wearing a kind of shirt that was cropped like here.
So it was like cropped-top shirt. So she has this discussion with this guy, we'll call
him O'Neal. So this is O'Neal, he says, "Can you do another video in that belly shirt?
Are you wearing underwear in this video? You are hot." And Amalyn says, "Yes, I'm wearing
underwear. No, I don't really on belly tops." O'Neal: "What kind of underwear were you wearing?
Can you do another video in the belly shirt from the video? You do have a sweet belly
button" Amalyn: "I don't really disclose what type I wear over the internet, but use your
imagination. I don't like doing belly videos because the comments I get tend to creep me
out, to be perfectly honest." O'Neal: "I do not mean to freak you out. I would just like
you to do another video in the belly shirt you are wearing in the video. Can I guess
what kind you are wearing, G-string or thong?" Amalyn: "Ha-ha, I won't be doing a video wearing
just that shirt." O'Neal: "No, I meant another video with you wearing that same shirt. Also,
were you wearing G-string or thong?" So, from Amalyn, I learned again, there's this question
of loneliness and connection, but at the same time, while she thinks that she's connecting
and making these friends online, a lot of the people that she's communicating with,
I feel have a whole different idea in mind of what it is she's providing them. And, in
this way, you can see how her life becomes, kind of, sucked into this whole void of other
people's fantasy. And she really becomes a character for them, and that something that
reoccurs over and over again in the rise of peep culture, is people don't empathize with
her and form a community with her so much as they flick through her life as if they
were watching a sitcom and they're, you know, encouraging her to develop her character in
ways that will excite them more and interest them more, you know, kinds of, you know, based
on whatever it is they're into. So, that's me and Amalyn having a discussion at a local
mall which she put upon YouTube. Okay, so, another character here who I met, who appears
in the book. I say character which is probably terrible 'cause these are actually real people.
This is Padme, and Padme runs this blog Journey to the Darkside. Padme is in a master-slave
relationship, and on her blog, she does two things. She blogs about her master-slave relationship
and all its kinky goings on. And she also blogs about her very ordinary life as a mother
of two and a housewife. So, I'm going to read a little piece of this blog here. "I just
found out that Chucky Cheese where we were going to have Skywalker's birthday party had
a pipe burst and they canceled his party on us." Skywalker is her son. She doesn't identify
herself or any of her, any other people she talks about. "The woman on the phone didn't
seem to think it was a big deal but we have a ton of kids and people coming to the birthday
later, and we have to try to find somewhere else. Also the lute bags and the cake, and
the packaging were all done through Chucky Cheese. Now, we have a lot of running around
to do. Urgh [ph]." So you can see this is the kind of mundane information that lots
of people might provide in different formats online. But then she goes on talking in that
same post about how she really needs master to come home and give her a thorough spanking
to alleviate her stress. So things get kind of weird very quickly. And I said to Padme,
I said, you know, "What is the appeal of this blog? Wouldn't it be better if it was just
devoted to your sexual kinks or just your family life, so there isn't a strange, kind
of, mix up?" And she said to me, "We're not just one specific topic. A lot of people like
that we're really open. We're not just spanking or sex. I think people are fascinated with
us. There's definitely a lot of lurkers, a lot of return visitors, people are curious.
They want to know what we're doing next." So, for Padme, she's really kind of--set it
up in this way that she thinks is going to attract the most amount of people. So, she
has people who come who are interested in the sex; people who come who are interested
in her lifestyle and in this master-slave lifestyle; and people who come who are just
kind of interested in the mundane details of her life. And for her, this is an ideal
kind of set up to attract the most people. There she's just having her first spanking
apparently. You know, you can't make this stuff up--you don't have to. So, you know,
we had this fascinating talk, and one of the things that I asked her is, "Would you ever
want your kids to see this?" She said, "Oh no, definitely not." "Would you want your
family to see this?" "No, definitely not." Her sister doesn't know about it. Nobody in
her community knows about it. So, again, she talks like Amalyn and Lisa about loneliness,
and, kind of, connecting to people but there's this--the irony, of course, is that these
revelations about her life, the things that would really connect her to people are only
provided for anonymous strangers. She does not give access to this information to the
people who are closest to her because she doesn't want them to know. So these are real,
kind of, disconnect between what we think people want to do or what she thinks she kind
of wants to do which is make--alleviate her loneliness and make connection and friends
to what she's really doing which is, again, kind of turning herself into a, sort of, product
and she's really proud of the fact that over 1.5 million people have visited Journey to
the Dark Side. This is a big, you know, big thing for her. Okay, so I met some of the
characters. I've introduced you to some of the characters who appear in the book, who
are samples of peep. This is, this is Post Secret. What I did after I talked to the people
who do a lot of peep is I started to talk to other people who are kind of involved in
facilitating peep culture, and Post Secret is run by Frank Warren, and Frank Warren lives
in Maryland and he started this, sort of, empire of secrets. To me, he's kind of the
high priest of peep in many ways. If you're not familiar with this project which has been
running for a quite a number of years now, basically, it is--secrets put up online that
are provided to him by anonymous people who send in these postcards, these artfully done
postcards and on them is their anonymous secret. And then, he then scans them in and puts them
on his Website He also has a series of bestselling books that collect
these postcards and he does a lot of speaking towards where he shows the postcards and talks
about why he does what he does. So I went to Frank to, kind of, try to understand this
impulse to put our secrets out for all to see. And this is what he told me when I asked
him about the popularity of Post Secret. He said, "Some of the reasons people come initially
might just be curiosity. But you can't look at these secrets without them resonating with
you personally. You can recognize your secret on a stranger's postcard. Each secret is very
individual but the emotion and the feeling and the experience ties us into a commonality."
So there's a kind of beauty there. There's a kind of sad empathy which, I think, Frank
is tapping into this idea of recognizing each other through these secrets. And there's a
real--this idea of tying us into this commonality through this anonymous expression of our secret.
So I think it's a really powerful one. But, I couldn't help noticing after talking to
Frank that various, other entities were, sort of, co-opting this idea and starting to try
to, kind of, versions of Post Secret for their own reasons. One of those entities is the
Kleenex Let It Out Website, which is, kind of, a marketing campaign where they encourage
people to go to Kleenex and similarly, they would let out their secrets. So, here's a
secret that somebody posted on the Kleenex Let It Out site, writes underdog the world.
"I'm 16, I'm a sophomore. I'm a rape victim. It happened this year by a guy I thought was
one of my friends and to make it worse, it was at my church. He said he needed to talk,
and I trusted him. My life changed. My friends changed. My school has changed, but most importantly,
I changed. I have no one to talk about and I wish I did. I also wish I wouldn't have
trusted him." So that's the story that she posted on the Kleenex Let It Out site. And
Kleenex helpfully, provides little kind of tags at the end, and her tag was, "Find Similar
Rape." So, you can see how we go from Frank Warren's vision of the shared commonality
of secrets to a more ill-advised, encouraging of people to share secrets and, sort of, turning
their secrets into product for these different marketing campaigns, which is maybe the not
so pleasant side of peep culture. So then I begin to think, "Okay, why do people peep?"
What is this obsession with peeping after all these experiences I've had and people
I have talked to. And one of the things I started to think about was apes. As you can
see, we got some apes going, and grooming in the way that monkeys and apes spend hours
and hours everyday grooming themselves. And, of course, they're grooming themselves, grooming
each other. So, you know, here we see apes doing it to humans who seem to love it by
the way. You don't see anyone going, "Get off me, monkey," which is what I'd be doing.
But, so I came to this idea that we're searching for community in an age of alienation that
we are basically evolved for monkeys, but we haven't really evolved as far as we would
like to thank in that we really people who need constant community, who want touch and
tactility, and we're searching for that through these peep culture endeavors, through these
revelations. And so, for instance, you can think of something like, Twitter, as a kind
of constant cyber grooming. And somebody asked me--an interviewer asked me, a reporter asked
me, you know, "Aren't the status updates annoying? Aren't they just pointless?" And I said, "Well,
you can look at it that way or you can look at it as this really profound constant updating
that connects you to people's lives just the fact that we really desire to be known for
just going about our lives." So instead of constantly trying to, you know, create better,
more powerful resumes and turn ourselves into celebrities, we really also want to be known
just for going about our lives. This is footage from Nanook of the North, by the way, which
was a documentary shot by Robert Flaherty in the '20s, and it was one of the first documentaries
ever made. And it was this incredible hit and it really spoke already to this kind of
rise of alienation in our society. So we live in this kind of alienated situations. We live
in single family dwellings. We live in apartments. We get in our cars. As we drive to work, we
go to our cubicle. And something about that world does not fulfill us. There's an element
there that leaves us feeling like we need more, and peep culture is kind of rushing
in to fill the gap. I like this video. I think it's probably fake, but, you know, it's funny.
Here we have, I think, it was called "office freak out" so he's freaking out. It looks,
kind of, too good to be true in a way. But we are lonely and we do live in very alienating
circumstances in our lives, and I think that this search for community, this desire to
return to a more, in a way, almost more primitive way of life where we're in a constant company
with each other, where we inherently need each other, and can no longer--just, sort
of, get in our car, drive away, get into our house and lock the door and watch TV all night,
you know, we want to go back to those times in many ways. So, I think, that is a big factor
in why we peep. There's another big factor in why we peep, and it is, of course, the
rise of--wait for it--celebrity. Here we go. Here's Michael Jackson, the King of Pop. I'm
going to spare you my moon walk which is, you know, usually part of my show, here. No.
So, this whole question of celebrity, the rise of celebrity which has really been, been,
perhaps, the predominant element of our social and cultural life over the last, say, it's
probably fair to say, 60, maybe even a hundred years. I think that we cannot underestimate
the power and allure of celebrity. We see these people on the screen all the time. We
see them being held up as our role models as "the people" that we should want to be
like. And so, we have this craving to be like them. At the same time, our coverage of celebrities,
the way we see celebrities is changing. So instead of admiring their performances, we
now admire what they wear, who they're married to, what, you know, how big their houses.
Here we see a video that I found somewhere, probably, some, sort of, TV show which, you
know, basically, involves a helicopter flying over the houses of the rich and famous. So
the more, so the more the coverage changes to reflect our obsession with their personal
lives the more we start to think, you know, my personal life could also get coverage in
this way, enter, of course, the rise of high speed Internet and all the different Web 2.0
conduits, and you get people really accessing peep culture in this way. I'm going to read
a quote from the book. This is something I wrote in the Peep Diaries that is a reaction
to some of the ideas around celebrity. "The peep celebrity isn't becoming so prevalent
in our culture because we're finally freeing ourselves from the shackles of an entertainment
industry that for too long, controlled who and what we watched. In fact, the opposite
is happening. The peep celeb is indicative of just how entranced we are by the media
machine's ability to create the star celebrity. We are drawn to the person product who seems
to fit so effortlessly into a society organize around the principle that people can and should
be reduced to hits, rating, views, box-office gross. In such a system, we are encouraged
to believe that our participation could lead to us being recognized and lavishly rewarded
just for going about our lives. Meanwhile, we are also led to believe that our participation
is in some way against the system. So we want to believe that putting ourselves online in
the way that celebrities are covered is in some way against celebrity culture instead
of just entering it. Here you see some footage from TMZ. Oh, this is Rihanna after being
beaten up by her boyfriend. So, you can see, that this isn't all fun and games. It is,
in fact, the process by which we make entertainment out of other people's misery. I began to think
of all as breaking the seal. This is the Star Wars kid, one of the most popular videos ever
posted online. And, in many ways, the Star Wars kid broke the seal for us on this whole
idea of using ordinary people's lives as entertainment, over 150 million people have watched this
video, which is, you know, an incredible number. And this whole idea of, kind of, breaking
the seal that once we've started down this road, we really can't stop. Here we see our
portly Quebec friend going about his Star Wars machinations. So, I had this idea about
breaking the seal, and I tied breaking the seal into Flicker, and found thousands, perhaps,
tens of thousands of photos of people breaking the seal, and for those who don't know her
or have decided to forget breaking the seal as, of course, colloquialism for going to
the bathroom the first time while you're at your keg party. So, you don't want to go,
you want to hold it in as long as possible 'cause once you go then you're going to have
to go repeatedly. So, in my mind, we've broken the seal in many ways on this whole idea of
peep culture. And this is leading us to a world where, you know, we're actually happy
to be photographed breaking the seal, going to the bathroom drunk. This is actually considered,
pretty normal in our society now and in many ways is a good thing, you know. It's like,
"Look at me, yeah. Go for it." So, I mean, breaking the seal I think has its good and
bad elements to it. Obviously, when you--every one I talked to talks about the addictive
nature of it, how hard it is to stop once they start. So, once you, kind of, start to
get followers, you've broken the seal. GPS Snitch is an item that I ordered and got my
hands on, and basically, it's a tracker. I put it in my wife's handbag and I began to
track her. I'm still married. Thank you. I asked her permission. And so I tracked her
online, basically, it shows at Google map. And she's a little dot, and she goes along,
and I was tracking her going back and forth to work. And in a way, I kind of broke the
seal for my own desire to watch because once I started tracking her, I found out that I
couldn't stop. I was literally obsessed with checking this Google map and where she was
going. And I would go like, you know, I pretend to work for ten minutes, and then I'd go and
check this map. And at one point, she was biking to work. She bikes to work, you know,
we live in Toronto. You can do that there. And she was biking to work and I was watching
her little dot travel at 12 miles per hour heading east, and then, you know, it's all
very friendly and I was going about my work. And what ended up happening is all of a sudden
the dot stopped. And, you know, I was like, "Okay, you know, that's fine. The dot stopped.
It's a red light or whatever." But the dot didn't start again, and I started to get all
super paranoid, and I was like, "What's going on here? Why has the dot stopped?" So I immediately
tried to call her on her cell phone and she didn't pick up. So then I was like, "Oh, oh,"
you know, I started--I broke into a sweat, and I'm like, hitting like resets and the
dot is not going. And I'm like, convinced that she's been run over by a truck. And then
finally, finally, the dot starts to go again as I likeā€”just about to like start calling
like, the police, check the local hospitals. So the dot starts to go again, and she's off
to work. So later on, I finally got her on the phone and I was, "What happened to you?
Why did you stop?" She said, "Oh, I stopped to get a sandwich, tuna sandwich to eat on
the way to work." So, I mean, one of the things I talk about in the book is this whole idea
of surveillance as entertainment and just how obsessed we get once we start doing these
things. So again, you kind of break the seal. And again, you know, we like to think that
this is making us safer in some way, but in many ways, it might not be, it may just be
making us more obsessive and this is something that--oh, that must've hurt. He laughs. You
know, this is something that we have to consider in our society as where all this is going
in terms of, you know, we can watch but then I just wanted to watch more. The more I use
GPS Snitch, the more I became obsessed with the things I couldn't see, and I wanted video,
and I wanted audio. And, you know, I just became less happy with what I could--with
the content that I could use to track her, which is already, you know, a pretty amazing
technology. So, I'm going to end reading something from the book. This is, kind of, the conclusion
of the book. And while I end, it'll play some nice videos here for you. "And so I think
I finally come to the one thing I know for sure, the one thing writing this book has
made me absolutely convinced of. If there's one thing I now know, it's the value of not
knowing. Our pragmatic, bureaucratic society sees it differently, of course. But so much
of the mystery of life, so much of its inherent, unquantifiable worth comes from that which
remains a mystery. It's not knowing that make us fall in love, that allows us to appreciate
beauty, that permits us to ravel in the moment despite the indisputable fact that one day
we will be sick, and that one day, we will be dead. Why didn't people come to my Facebook
party because they felt they didn't have to. They felt they already knew me; so why waste
an evening getting to know someone you already know. Many times during the course of researching
this book, I heard a familiar refrain, and this is something that I heard from Lisa Sargese
and from Amalyn, and from Padme. They said to me, when I asked them how they felt about
the fact that thousands--hundreds of thousands maybe even millions of strangers knew the
details of their intimate private life, they said to me, well, they think they know me
but they don't really know me. It's as if having revealed everything, having laid bare
every potential mystery, we want to pull back and reclaim that insoluble essential something
we've given away. They don't know me. I'm still the singular human being, an enigma,
an unknowable. Not knowing is an option too, it's a choice I hope my daughter's generation
will be able to occasionally make. As for us right now, well, we're busy frantically
trying to know everything and anything, no matter how garish invasive or better left
alone it may be. We're frantic about filling the void. But the void is a vacuum. It sucks
everything into it. It's never full, it's never satisfied. Peep is bad when it exists
to feed the all-knowing void, and at the risk of getting all chicken soup for the grownup
daughter here, peep is good when it feeds that which is uniquely human, our capacity
to care without needing to know why." So, I'll stop there, somebody who would want to
take a stab in identifying our lovely videos? There'll be a price. Nobody?
>> That's one is [INDISTINCT]. >> NIEDZVIECKI: Right, David after the dentist.
And before David, there was, I believe, the dancing cadet. He also made an appearance.
He was skyrocketed to fame after his roommate planted a hidden camera in their dorm room.
And, there was one more--what's the other one? I always ask this question and then I
forget the answer, which is probably not that bright. Somewhere on one of these cards, it
will tell you. Well, you know, it'll let the masses of YouTube decide. It'll come to me
later. So, yeah, I'm here to, you know, if there's any questions about what I've had
to say. >> [INDISTINCT]
>> NIEDZVIECKI: Well, I mean--yeah. That's one of the things that I hear a lot is, oh,
you know, it's much more frightening now and then there's a question of erasing and, again,
you know, I'm by no means any kind of computer genius, but I do get the sense that it's harder
to erase than it is to put the things on. And, in the course of the book, you know,
one of the guys that I talked to for awhile was this private detective who basically told
me that, in previous, you know, he's up there in age, and he said, "You have a previous
decades when he would do his private detectiveing, the holy grail was to get a picture of this
person, so that you could then, you could then track them better." And now we said,
that, of course, the picture is--involves just putting their name into the computer
and, you know, the picture is the easiest thing to get. And that, in fact, most of his
investigations now don't involve him ever leaving his office, whereas, before it would
be getting the picture, tracking the guy down and following them around and accumulating
information that way. So there's this whole kind of shift in how we can find out about
people. >> FEMALE: Where do you see this going? Do
you think it's going to be--there would be more of it or do you think it's going to,
kind of, peter out with the Internet being, you know, still relatively young? Do you think
this is just the Internet phenomenon or just the way that we are?
>> NIEDZVIECKI: Yeah, I think that it is going to continue. I don't think it's going to peter
out. I think we're really looking at a, kind of, quantum shift in how humanity is going
to relate to itself. And, I think, in many ways, this is the beginning. You know, again,
I don't know anything about technology and I don't know anything about business. You're
thinking, what do I know about--I don't know myself. I know, you know, very little, in
fact, but what I have observed is that people are instinctually using these technologies.
They're moving forward with, kind of, instinct and desire as opposed to any kind of intellectual,
really thinking through what they're doing, and I think that that's--that accounts for
the crazy growth of something like, Twitter, which I just read, you know, from 2008 to
2009 grew 300 percent or something like that. So you've got this incredible desire to connect,
to put ourselves out there. And I think it's just going to continue as technologies make
it easier and easier for us to fuse our lives with our, kind of, parallel virtual lives
which we're starting to experiment with--and, people really want to do this stuff. I mean,
if you ask me, "Is Twitter going to be around or Facebook or Google?" That I can't tell
you. In many ways, that's something that I think it's, kind of--beside the point from
what I'm looking at, which is just this big shift in behavior with who's going to profit
from it, and what the names are going to be, that I don't know. But, I think there's no
question that people are going to be continuing to do this and doing it in even more reflexive,
and what we might have thought of previously, invasive ways. You guys are quiet. Come on.
Don't you want to know how drunk I got on Facebook night?
>> Who was taking your photos on Facebook night?
>> NIEDZVIECKI: Well, I, of course, needed a photographer to capture the glory of Facebook
night. So, I dragged my next-door neighbor who's an amateur photographer along with me.
And, see, the funny thing about Facebook night is I excluded the 40 years old people on Facebook
who I actually knew as, you know, real--I don't know, most of them you wouldn't call
them friends, but you would call them associates or whatever, you know, people that I knew
from the scene. So I didn't invite them there. I only invited people I'd never known, and
the photographer was technically not invited 'cause he was in the category of Facebook
friends I actually knew. But, you know, you got to--it was really interesting 'cause I
really did think that 15, 20, 30 people were going to show up at this thing. And, you know,
I really staged it more to ask people what--how they use Facebook, and just get more insight
into the whole social networking phenomenon face to face. I though it would be a nice
little mixer. And I really had no idea that my attraction as a human being was so low.
>> FEMALE: How did you have 702 friends on Facebook? I mean, is this--as the result of
your book or is it just from--do you really know 700 people?
>> NIEDZVIECKI: Oh, no, no. I mean I--I don't know like, ten people. I just--as a writer
in a public, you know, bit of a public figure, it's not that girls are throwing themselves
at me as I walk down the streets, yet, you know, I know they will. But, you know, it
just sort of accumulated that I--people would say, "Oh, I read your article then I friended
with you." You know what I mean, I write articles, have written books, and so I would accept
their friendship knowing, of course, that they weren't really my friends. And it's really
interesting when you talk to people who use Facebook a lot or a lot of these social networking
things where they'll say, they all have these different rules, and maybe you--in this room
have certain rules where they'll say, "I only add people on Facebook who I have met in person
or I only add people in Facebook who I've had a drink with or I only do this or that."
And I always say to them, "Well, that's fine. That's good. You have your policy but what
is your--what's your rationale here? What are you actually trying to achieve through
Facebook that you've set those rules?" And then they'll say, "Well, you know, I don't
know. Like, that's just my rule." So, I mean, people again, I think, throughout the writing
of this Peep Diaries book, I always found that people were almost always using the technology--they
had an idea in mind of what they were using it for, but they were actually using it in
a way that was totally contrary to that idea. And I think that that, you know, the Facebook
party is one illustration of that, and the fact, they we're, you know, we're often--we
adapt these rules and we think that we're--we know what we're doing but, in fact, we're
usually, kind of, confused as to what it is that we're actually doing and why. So part
of, you know, my message is that we should think more--we should step back and think
a little harder about some of the ways we're using these, these interfaces and why we're
using them. And what we actually want to get out of them.
>> I don't know. I'm kind of [INDISTINCT]. I kind of make it that way.
>> NIEDZVIECKI: Yeah, I mean, that's part of the--that's part of the fascinating thing
about this is that people are really splitting this as people would say, "You know, I never
want to take anything back. That's just who I am. I'm going to put it all out there."
And other people will say, "Well," you know, "I kind of, wish I hadn't done that or someone
else hadn't done that." And a lot of times, the material--most of the material I found
on that Pipl say about me was stuff from other people that other people had put up there,
especially pictures and stuff. So you go to the party and someone takes a picture of you,
they put it up, you know, there's not a lot we can do. One of the scenes in the book,
I had this dinner with this amateur sex Website group who all put up visibly nude photos of
themselves. And so a bunch of these participants who--couples gathered and had dinner with
me and it was all organized but this guy from Amsterdam who runs these sites and his name
Igor [ph]. Again, you can't make this stuff up. And Igor--so one of the things they do
is when they have their gatherings, they have their, kind of, social couples, sex uploading
party gatherings, they wear different wrist bands, and the wrist band indicates what level
of involvement you are in the scene. So, if you are in a certain color of wrist band that
indicates to people that you're good to have any body part of you taken and put online
including your face 'cause often though, you know, they get nude and run around. And if
you have a different color of wrist band, maybe they can take pictures of you, like
neck down or no pictures at all. So, in many ways, that to me is, kind of, a microcosm
of where we're going in the society. We're all going to be wearing these wrist bands
soon. You know, like, "Look, don't--here is my wrist band. Don't take pictures of me vomiting
in the toilet after this tequila party. Okay. I'm wearing the purple wrist band." But, of
course, will people respect that. I think what I've seen is that people really don't
respect that and that they're out there trolling to get you at your most vulnerable moment,
you know, when you are, maybe, drunk or high and taking off your wizard costume when you
shouldn't be. That's when people want to take your picture. And I think that's part of our
cultural ethos, that celebrity, you know, they're kind of, feasting on the weak moments
of celebrities that is almost spread to the rest of us or like, following people around,
hoping they'll trip and hurt themselves so we can video the action. That's not quite
that bad but it can be on certain circumstances. Anyway, okay.
>> FEMALE: Do you talk about the ways that, kind of, the peep aspect placed into the political
realm, kind of, like that shooting in San Jose? I know that brought up a lot of controversy
'cause everybody caught it from different angles on their camera that it pretty much
like had them changed their policy or on shooting and who was convicted and things like that?
>> NIEDZVIECKI: Oh, absolutely, I mean, you can't look at the phenomena of peep culture
without looking at the political ramifications. There's been all kinds of scenarios in countries
all over the world where people abusing their authority have been caught doing things, essentially,
because of peep culture, because of this desire to capture all these material. So when you
look at it from that perspective, you'd say, it's actually, kind of good. It's actually
a good idea that we're all running around with our cell phone cameras, because you'll
never know when you're going to see these abuses of authority. On the other hand, I
think it's also fair to make the argument that, you know, for every one time that you
capture an abuse of authority, the other million things that are being captured and posted
online are things that are much more mundane, and maybe possibly a violation of someone
else's privacy and their rights to go about their life without, you know, being posted
online. So, again, you have to weigh the good and the bad and you have to decide for yourself.
Every one has to decide for themselves how they want to view this. And there's been a
lot of talk about this, the rise of the transparent society where everything is on camera so every
one is equal. But, I'm not sure that it's really working out that way so far. Okay,
thanks very much.