Olivia is… unnerved

It’s worrisome when the public sphere encroaches on private emotions

Jade Goody has lived her entire adult life in front of the camera. Star of the reality TV show Big Brother, Goody became a household name in Britain through her outlandish behavior on the show, once even sparking a diplomatic incident between India and the U.K. Recently, Goody’s life hit a more tragic note with her diagnosis of terminal cervical cancer. But, true to form, this aspect of her life too will be broadcast—a television series is being filmed to document her last days.

Unfortunately, this shocking treatment of a young woman’s personal misfortune doesn’t stop with the stars of reality TV. Largely via the Internet, the public invasion of private life has infiltrated our whole generation’s way of life. Despite the contrast suggested by the opposing categories of “private emotions” and “public forums,” online phenomena such as Twitter and Facebook constantly encourage us to project our private lives into the public sphere—often to the detriment of our personal relationships.

By virtue of their indiscriminate audience and the lack of effort they demand, websites are an inherently superficial forum. Online communication occurs at the level of “networking” or “friending,” rather than by means of more authentic exchanges.

In addition, constantly projecting our lives outward has the effect of diminishing our ability to engage in private contemplation and develop sincere personal thoughts—in other words, to be alone. Many seem to find solitude so uncomfortable that they feel compelled to share their thoughts with a mass audience. As I write this article, Facebook statuses inform me that one boy in my network “is napping” and another “is hungry.” Clearly, both are in reality dedicating time to grooming their technological image.

Such is the significance attributed to presentation in the public forum that one friend went as far as to describe Facebook as another personality. The worth attributed to Internet personas warrants trepidation when we aren’t even able to have simple private thoughts without translating them into the public forum.

Even worse than the incessant expression of inane private thoughts is the attempt to express complex private emotions in Facebook’s limited text boxes. Publicly paraded sentiments are inevitably devalued as a result of their superficial context. This inappropriateness is most apparent when the most personal emotions, such as those associated with death, begin to decorate public forums. When someone with a Facebook dies, his or her profile often remains active, either to commemorate that person’s life or because the family does not have the legal rights to close it. Messages such as “U R missed, sugar,” posted by a girl with a smiling drunken profile picture, carry little genuine value on a website intended for social networking.

In the play Loot, Joe Orton wrote, “I’m not in favour of private grief. Show your emotions in public or not at all.” The extent to which modern attitudes mimic those in Orton’s farcical play are undoubtedly a cause for concern. In order to preserve the sanctity of private lives, the invasive presence of the public sphere must be diminished. This year, the Roman Catholic Church recommended renouncing networking websites for Lent. Perhaps resisting temptation will be beneficial for us all.


Olivia M. Goldhill ’11, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Pforzheimer House.