Danger online

From The Times
January 28, 2009
Danger online: Perils of revealing every intimate moment
Anything goes on the web. We find out why we share personal details online and explain our obsession with social networking

Carol Midgley and James Harkin
Blogs, Facebook, Twitter - all are forums in which people are suddenly prepared to share anything from heartbreak, marital discord and a diagnosis of chlamydia to what kind of new stair carpet they are getting. Even celebrities, who you might think would have enough public exposure, cannot seem to resist the extra fix of performing to an audience. Alan Carr recently confided that eating broccoli had given him wind. Phillip Schofield provided this gripping insight: “YAY - home-made soup for supper.
Concerns, though, are growing about the decline of the private self. Many people are questioning the wisdom particularly of blogs in which ordinary people write regular updates about their children and spouses, and they are asking whether we are surrendering our privacy too easily.
There are more than 100 million blogs in operation worldwide that are written - and read - with great enthusiasm. Spilling your guts to an invisible audience can feel good. There are undisputed cathartic benefits. But where does it end? A general (though, it must be said, not total) rule is that the more personally revealing the blog, the higher the number of regular readers. Is there then a temptation to expose more and more of yourself, like a striptease artist peeling off her clothes?
Feedback is what improves your eBay rating, and a continuous cycle of messaging and feedback is what keeps you in touch with your friends on social networks online. Feedback is the glue that holds the internet together, which explains the pull that grips people and pulls them back again and again, and why they begin to feel twitchy when they haven't checked their Facebook page for five minutes.
What all this adds up to is a new kind of self that many of us now inhabit - one who has grown up to crave a constant cycle of electronic instruction, one who needs to be in the information loop via e-mail, text message and online networks at all times. When inhabitants of “Cyburbia” return there compulsively to check for updates, they are only trying to ward off a persistent fear of falling out of the loop.