The age of YouTube, iPod, blogs, Technorati and Digg -- combined with 24/7 insta-everything -- has created both a wondrous and horrifying world.
Wondrous belongs to the spectators, who are free to google, oogle and giggle. Horrifying is the realm of actors. Not actors of the Tom Cruise variety, though Maverick's meltdown surely is as much a function of the relentless Eye as of his odd behavior.
I'm talking more about real people who mount life's stage in good faith and try to do something that matters. To shape events, to mold policy, to advance civilization. Not everyone is qualified for the job, clearly, but neither is every critic a worthy adversary.
What passes for acceptable criticism today was unimaginable a generation ago. So, too, are the mechanisms for capturing and distributing our every public -- or private -- moment.
Where once you made a gaffe in front of 100 people, today you do it in front of millions. Not once, but forevermore. YouTube, the Web site where anyone can post a video, has become a favorite hitching post for riders of the blogosphere.
Count me in. I love it. I watch TV segments I missed. Today, I watched a wrenching homage to the Lebanese people. Yesterday it was the amazing wardrobe-changing act from an episode of ``America's Got Talent." Not long ago, I watched a tape of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead singing the national anthem in 1993 at San Francisco's Candlestick Park. Spectacular.
And then there was Sen. George Allen. Will he ever survive the Macaca tape? Probably not, because no one will ever forget. It's there, captured for all time, rewound and replayed a thousand times, archived in the ethers of the World Wide Web, forever and beyond.
Likewise, if you give a speech to, say, 500 people in Ashland, Ohio, you're talking to them, those people, those faces, those eyes. You direct your remarks, your jokes, your expressions to them.
But then you're on the Web, podcasted, excerpted, spliced, inserted, critiqued by strangers and reviled by ... whom? Anonymous. They -- the googlers, ooglers and gigglers -- are Everyone and No One In Particular.
I've been on the receiving end of Anonymous enough times to glimpse what higher-profile actors get to enjoy. Imagine being president of the United States. No thanks.
It's not about having thick-enough skin to withstand the pressure and constant scrutiny. You can grow it over time. It's whether you want to. Is anything worth that kind of self-sacrifice? Who will run for public office in such an environment? Only the exhibitionist? Only the hardest-nosed, thickest-skinned among us? What kind of people will they be? What kind of nation will we become?