But the real revolution of the Internet has been to make personal disclosure routine. Some, via Twitter, Facebook and the like, have taken to afflict others with a constant stream of their random thoughts -- an avocation that a columnist has no business to criticize. Less understandable to me are the revelations once reserved for the most intimate friends. Transparency has become disconnected from intimacy. It is not just that the young and irresponsible proudly record the details of their love life or the excesses of Saturday night (sometimes to their later regret). I still find it jarring when someone announces the death of a loved one on Facebook, and the messages of condolence come in from "friends" who are really strangers.
There are many motives, of course, for sharing personal information on social media. Most people, I suspect, are networking. I was considering these issues recently while updating my own, nearly friendless Facebook page. Progress sweeps even skeptics before it. But who could possibly care that I listen to Iron & Wine or recommend the movie "The Passion of Joan of Arc"?
I suspect, however, that some Internet exhibitionists are simply lonely. They want the details of their lives -- no matter how trivial, troubling or shocking -- to matter and count to someone. Of course, those details do matter and count, as all lives matter and count. But if loneliness is the motive, it is not likely to be relieved before a computer screen. This kind of disclosure is a solitary enterprise. The Internet stage is a one-man show.
While America worries about the legal protection of privacy and abandons its practice, the reticent, necessarily denied attention, still deserve praise. Writes the poet C.K. Williams:
More and more lately, as, not even minding the slippages yet, the aches and sad softenings,
I settle into my other years, I notice how many of what I once thought were evidences of repression,
sexual or otherwise, now seem, in other people anyway, to be varieties of dignity, withholding, tact.
Not the virtues of the Internet culture -- but virtues nonetheless.