THE PEEP DIARIES: HOW WE’RE LEARNING TO LOVE WATCHING OURSELVES AND OUR NEIGHBORS by Hal Niedzviecki (City Lights), 256 pages, $17.95 paper. Rating: NNNN
Hal Niedzviecki's new book coins the term "peep culture" and harnesses a ton of research - as well as his impressive analytical skills - in a way that's sure to make the term stick.
Peep culture refers to the phenomenon that currently finds us all yearning to watch and be watched. It's spawned everything from reality TV to Facebook to complex spy technologies used for entertainment and other, not so benign purposes.
According to Niedzviecki, peep depends on our belief that we are all equally interesting and that everything about us is totally fascinating, so much so that "lifecasting" (recording your every move) and "oversharing" (doling out information that can come back to haunt you) are now commonplace.
Along the way, he offers some intriguing information. Contrary to popular assumptions, for example, the use of surveillance technology was on the rise long before 9/11 and is a function of the Net's influence on behaviour, not George Bush's.
And Niedzviecki charts important cultural developments that go along with the rise of peep. Photographic impulses that capture a moment in time have given way to the urge to video, which is less about finding something universal in a single moment than it is about keeping tabs on people. A crucial chapter reports that privacy, once a right, is turning into a commodity bought and sold by Google and Yahoo.
Writing with astonishing clarity - and even beauty - Niedzviecki piles on the ironies. In peep culture, TV shows like Cops, originally intended to curb crime, wind up promoting it. Devastatingly, surfers who overshare in an effort to find community - like many using amateur porn sites - wind up feeling more alone than ever.
Niedzviecki launches The Peep Diaries on Tuesday (May 19) at the Gladstone as part of Pages' This Is Not A Reading Series. See Readings.
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