Monday, April 20, 2009

old world new world - or the drama the drama

on saturday, my mum called and said, i know you are so lonely and have no one to talk to anymore - but please, you must end this facebook thing!

but first - i had 5 kids in my house, a depressed friend, hormones out of control and was still reeling from an incredibly nasty email in which my first ex-husband andrew blamed his being a MIA dad on my "trapping him with a marriage and a baby" that i engineered (despite the fact that baby and i cut our losses and split in 8 weeks of her birth and he refused to get divorced because i "abandoned"him...)

next a 45-minute sobbing phone call where my mother begged me to get off facebook because 1. people as far away as dubai and france were reading my mad family stories and laughing (they are MEANT to be funny) 2. in our culture, we don't praise our daughters and my daughters would now never get married, make lasting friendships or get real jobs because people would remember they were terrible teenagers 3. in our culture, there is a concept of "shame" (read salman rushdie for more explanation) and that seems to have bypassed me entirely 4. she goes to dinner parties and people know that my cousins are visiting or i have a job interview before she does.

i tried to explain to my mum that i don't write anything on facebook that i wouldn't say to someone in the supermarket line.

and admittedly, i sometimes express exasperation, frustration, irritation with my kids and/or ex-husbands and finances - but wait, isn't that a normal human state?

this is the new village, i said.

this is the over-fence, on the sidewalk chat that people have these days.

when i was in college, i shared a flat with a guy at one point. not a boyfriend or a romantic interest in any way. douglas is a lovely brilliant person and now a professor at UCLA, i think.

my mum stayed with us and said, oh, this is terrible - what do you think all my friends in india will say when they hear that you are LIVING WITH A MAN?

i said, um how will they know?

and she said, oh i'll have to tell them!

it's funny, because i remember, when i was a teenager, aunties coming up to me and saying, tell your mother not to talk about EVERYTHING, it's not nice.

so in her world, she's right.

in the old world, the internet is a vast and scary place where you post the wrong thing and your identity is stolen, your children kidnapped.

in the old world, your "privacy" is a jealously-guarded secret.

a friend of mine got upset a few months' ago because i said her baby was crying while she was on the phone. she said, but you WROTE HER NAME on the internet. that was so uncool.

and i said, first, why does it matter? you might tell the guy who serves you a burger at the shake shack her name.

and second, who will ever remember?

i was trying to explain to my mum that paris hilton got famous for having sex on youtube. and now she is selling fragrances to pre-teens.

in the new world, the collective memory is very short.

in the new world, we realize that privacy does not exist.(and perhaps it never did - live in a small village anywhere and you'll discover that everyone knows how many croissants you buy on sunday and whose car was parked outside your house last weekend)

do a quick search on almost anyone on google, dogpile, about or zoominfo - you'll be surprised by what you find out, or don't.

in the new world, internet absence is mark against against them.

but also, your medical records are computerized, so are your credit reports. if you use ezpass, the state has records of every place your car goes. there are records of every financial transaction you make if you use a check, a credit card or a debitcard.

and don't you think the grocery check-out girls discuss the bizarre contents of your shopping cart as a chance to deconstruct your personality? (please, i worked check-out before)

look online, chances are, you've been tagged in a photo somewhere. mentioned in school records.

as i said to my mum - what do i have to be ashamed about?

in old world, men were "trapped into marriages" by women who got pregnant as a strategy. (should i mention that my ex-husband and my mum are quite close in age?)

in the new world, we take responsibility for our choices.

it's not scary - it's thrilling!

we're not victims, we own our narratives.

we invite people in and realize our common humanity.

and isn't that the point?


  1. Wow! This is a fantastic post!
    It's amazing how easily people are offended and upset by things that they don't understand.
    Some people won't ever understand but you're right, it's the new digital era -- the new village. :) It's just how things are now.
    It's become such a societal norm that it hardly fazes anyone anymore, with rare exceptions.

    nic @

  2. I am not comfortable with being so open on the internet, particularly with things like twitter or status messages on facebook, which are not to anyone in particular but a cry to the entire virtual space. I think the analogy is there are things you would say in a conversation in a public place, that may be overheard, and you don't really care if it is.. but at the same time, you wouldn't write that on a sandwich board and walk the streets with it, or shout it out your window at EVERY person.... Not only for your sake, but for their sake. Your facebook friends and your twitter followers probably don't want to know some stuff, just like people on the subway don't necessarily want to hear the guy who walks thru the train singing his song.

  3. What I don't understand is, whatever you may believe or think about public disclosure and the internet... don't you feel that the exposure/disclosure of the lives of others is their perogative not yours? For instance, if your friend doesnt want her baby's name mentioned, why didn't you say, gosh, i'm sorry! instead of "why does it matter?" which seems just designed to dismiss her.

    Which brings me to your daughters.... how is what you are doing to them.. ie giving them wide public exposure through your own writing.. any different from a beauty pageant mom? is that who you want to be to them? you've taken away their choice to be public or not.

  4. thanks, ashraf!

    hmm. as a writer, i feel the exposure/disclosure of the lives of others - in the way they affect me - is indeed my perogative. that's the nature of the medium.

    indeed in my world, fear of the opinions of others is paralyzing.

    that said, i think my daughters are absolutely brilliant. i am thrilled with almost everything they do and experience. i don't think writing about it is different than posting a picture or sending out a christmas letter with their activities.

    and, unlike the singing guy in the subway (which doesn't offend me either) - if one doesn't want to read it, one doesn't have to. it's an active effort.

    while you can block out obstructive noise, your cellphone can't.

    i do think it's very different than a beauty pageant mum in that i am merely commenting (as mothers do) on their activities, but i am not constructing them.

    and less and less as the days go by...