Social Networks Enable “Peep Culture”

David Esber

The concept of a “peeping Tom” gains a whole new meaning in today’s society, where the number of connections made through social networking websites, like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, has increased exponentially. Rather than peeking through an uncovered window, this new generation of peeping Toms has had a much easier time thanks to the advent of modern technologies, according to author Hal Niedzviecki. On Tuesday, November 10, Niedzviecki presented a lecture in Love Auditorium that centered around his book, The Peep Diaries, and how America has become a “peep culture.”

The lecture, sponsored by The Colgate Jewish Union (CJU) and Keep it Sexy, Colgate! (KISC), incorporated a mix of viral video, anecdotes and book excerpts to make the point that modern society is nothing more than a population of celebrities.

“We’re using [technology] to watch each other,” Niedzviecki said. “That is a major element of what we are doing with these new technologies.”

This voyeuristic mentality, Niedzviecki said, can be broken into three categories: peeping ourselves, peeping others and peeping by the other. In each of these situations, the advent of technology allows regular people to become celebrities in the virtual world while maintaining a separate existence in what he called the “flesh life.”

Junior Eugene Riordan, the moderator of the KISC initiative on Facebook, said that this separation between flesh life and virtual life has both positive and negative influences on society.

“I think that people forget that the Internet is an open space for everyone, and do a lot of stupid things on the net,” Riordan said.

The numerous video clips from Youtube and other websites underscore Riordan’s point. The sheer volume of footage promotes the concept that anyone can be a celebrity, a fact which Niedzviecki reiterated throughout the lecture.

“What is a celebrity? Nothing more than a product,” Niedzviecki said.

Through social networking and similar forums, Niedzviecki said these celebrities of the peep culture are able to tell their story and use this story to their advantage either for monetary gain or for emotional reassurance and support. One of the anecdotes he used was that of a woman who vlogged (video blogged) following her gastric bypass surgery. Despite the circumstances of the flesh life, Niedzviecki said the virtual life is able to transform stories into something to be shared with the world.

“You can see the progression where people start off wanting to tell [their] story, but the more [they] tell their story and the more people respond to that story, the more they begin to think of their story as a product and realize that ‘you know, I can use that product to get ahead,'” Niedzviecki said. “People want to shine. [They] want people to know what they have gone through.”

First-year Hayley Fager said the lecture brought to light concerns over how people have begun to market themselves to the world through this peep culture.

“It shocked me how people begin to spread their personal secrets to the whole world, until I thought about how I do the same through Facebook and other websites – I just have never thought about it as marketing,” Fager said.

According to Riordan, a cause for this lies with the comfort level society has with technology.

“I grew up with them [new technologies], so as they came out it was easy enough to adapt to them and understood how to integrate them into my life,” Riordan said. “I think that what Mr. Niedzviecki is trying to point out is that we’re becoming our own best friend and own worst enemy, all at the same time, and could be losing essential social skills that were integral pre-television and Internet.”

Through his use of dry wit, personal anecdotes and those of other peep culture celebrities, Niedzviecki showed just how interconnected the internet has made people and how there is no limit to what people are willing to share, Fager said.

“He brought a really amusing spin to something which basically controls our lives, and showed how it’s not necessarily bad or good, but definitely something that is here to stay,” Fager said.