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The Peep Diaries: How We're Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors [Paperback]

Hal Niedzviecki

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Book Description

1 Jun 2009
"Take a peek at The Peep Diaries, an erudite (but not too erudite) look at the culture that Facebook, Twitter, et al. have spawned."-Real Simple "It's a great read; it mixes frank interviews with people pushing the boundaries of voyeurism and exhibitionism, alongside a bracing critique of the social context that got us into peep culture and the forces that now exploit our participation in it."-The Globe and Mail We have entered the age of "peep culture": a tell-all, show-all, know-all digital phenomenon that is dramatically altering notions of privacy, individuality, security, and even humanity. Peep culture is reality TV, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, over-the-counter spy gear, blogs, chat rooms, amateur porn, surveillance technology, Dr. Phil, Borat, cell phone photos of your drunk friend making out with her ex-boyfriend, and more. In the age of peep, core values and rights we once took for granted are rapidly being renegotiated, often without our even noticing. With hilarious, exasperated acuity, social critic Hal Niedzviecki dives into peep, starting his own video blog, joining every social network that will have him, monitoring the movements of his toddler, selling his secrets on Craigslist, hiring a private detective to investigate him, spying on his neighbors, trying out for reality TV shows, and stripping for the pleasure of a web audience he isn't even sure exists. Part travelogue, part diary, part meditation and social history, The Peep Diaries explores a rapidly emerging digital phenomenon that is radically changing not just the entertainment landscape, but also the firmaments of our culture and society. The Peep Diaries introduces the arrival of the age of peep culture and explores its implications for entertainment, society, sex, politics, and everyday life. Mixing first-rate reporting with sociological observations culled from the latest research, this book captures the shift from pop to peep and the way technology is turning gossip into documentary and Peeping Toms into entertainment journalists. Packed with stranger-than-fiction true-life characters and scenarios, The Peep Diaries reflects the aspirations and confusions of the growing number of people willing to trade the details of their private lives for catharsis, attention, and notoriety. Hal Niedzviecki is the editor of Broken Pencil magazine and has published numerous works of social commentary and fiction, including Hello I'm Special: How Individuality Became the New Conformity.

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About the Author

Hal Niedzviecki's writings on culture have appeared in newspapers and magazines across North America. He is the founder of Broken Pencil, a magazine covering zine culture and the indie arts. In addition to three novels and a story collection, Niedzviecki is the author of Hello, I'm Special and We Want Some Too: Underground Desire and the Reinvention of Mass Culture.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Okay Book About an Interesting Subject 4 July 2009
By Kevin Currie-Knight - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I picked up this book with much anticipation. As I contribute to two blogs and post on-line book reviews, I am a part of, as the author terms it, peep culture. Hal Niedzviecki's Peep Diaries examines the different parts of peep culture - blogs, reality television, youtube video-making - and the people behind it to find out what the intrigue is and why so many people are so eager.

Towards this end, Niedzviecki interviews many players in peep culture: bloggers, reality tv stars and producers, youtube "filmmakers," and creators of surveillance technology available to the public. He even decided to get in on the action himself by starting a blog about his personal life and buying a device that allows his consenting wife to be tracked GPS style. To his surprise, he found blogging quite addicting and keeping tabs on his wife throughout the day surprisingly stressful.

About half of the book recounts his interviews with those involved in peep culture, and half is reflection on peep culture. The reflective part is not nearly as interesting, as Niedzviecki's points and ruminations are often quite stale. We've all heard the diagnosis before that the desire to blog, star in reality shows and the like is one part narcissism and one part desire-to-connect-in-an-increasingly-isolated-existence. It may be true, but the fact is that we don't really need another book telling us this (and tell us he does, repeatedly, as if it gets more original each time we hear it.)

My favorite part of the book was the chapters toward the end dealing with issues of privacy raised by peep culture. It is one thing to willingly consent to give up privacy and be watched. It is another thing when the same technology allows people to invade the privacy of those who did not consent. Blogs make gossip easier. Put increased availability of cameras and surveillance technology and youtube together and you get the potential for privacy violation. (Yes, the law can punish the transgressors, but who cares; everyone already saw the video before it was taken down.) As Niedzviecki often reminds us, new technology is not necessarily a bad thing, but it often leads to periods of adjustment where we stumble to acclimate ourselves to "new ways" of doing things.

Overall, this is a moderately good book about an interesting subject. Niedzviecki is a good writer and interviewer, but his philosophic ruminations are a bit stale and tiresome. (And the author had a tendency to make the same or similar points over and over.)
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not eye-opening, but eye-popping 27 July 2009
By Bluestalking Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I finished reading this book yesterday evening, lying in bed. When my husband saw the title he was intrigued, asking me what it was about. When I told him he replied, "I don't want to know..."

As my husband's in the tech field, and very up to date with all things digital technology, he's well aware of many ways in which we've lost our privacy. But a whole book dedicated to the subject? It scared him too much.

It scared me, too. As a graduate student in Library and Information Science, I've taken a required course on the topic of Intellectual Freedom. One major theme that cropped up again and again was how what we reveal about ourselves is recorded in ways we can't even imagine. Several class mates argued, "If I'm doing nothing wrong, why should I worry?" I, and a number of others, tried to communicate to them that any loss of freedom or personal information is a potential disaster, and that once it starts there's no stopping it. I'm not sure we convinced all of them, but a few were "reformed."

I loved The Peep Diaries, and did, as my review title exists, find more than a few eye-popping facts that were new to me. But the aspect I enjoyed most was the connection he made between the decline in "real life" community (Americans so often don't even know their immediate neighbors) and the ways in which we may be seeking to achieve those sorts of relationships online. A brilliant observation. I'd love to read a book-length treatment of this one topic alone.

I enjoyed this book from start to finish. It kept me engaged, and I enjoyed the style. It walked the line between scholarly research and familiar, friendly language, never lulling me to sleep as so much of my graduate school reading has (!). Very highly recommended to all, but I'll warn you: it probably will scare you, but in a way that's good for you. It will teach you that every bit of information you give away is stored by someone, somewhere, and may one day be used against you.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars From Pop Culture to Peep Culture 12 Aug 2010
By Sam Sattler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Hal Niedzviecki's "The Peep Diaries" explores how and why popular culture has evolved into one in which so many people suffer from the TMI (Too Much Information) syndrome. Not only are millions of exhibitionists willing to share the most intimate details of their lives with perfect strangers, they work hard to make sure as many people as possible view those details. As Niedzviecki notes on the first page of his book, "Webster's New World Dictionary" added a new verb to its 2008 edition to describe this very phenomenon: overshare - to divulge excessive personal information, as in a blog or broadcast interview, prompting reactions ranging from alarmed discomfort to approval.

But let us be honest. There would be far fewer exhibitionists if the rest of us did not relish watching them make fools of themselves. Not only are we a culture of exhibitionists; we are a culture of voyeurs.

Niedzviecki believes that Peep Culture emerged because people find it more difficult today than ever before to develop close, long-lasting relationships. We might live in larger and larger cities, surrounded by more people than ever, but the pace at which we live our lives makes it near impossible to connect with like-minded people or to maintain such relationships over the long term. So what could be more tempting, or addicting, than how easy it is to find hundreds of new "friends" on websites like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube - especially when we can choose people who think and believe exactly as we do?

In order to test his theory, Niedzviecki became a direct participant in Peep Culture. Among other things, he blogged and he tweeted; he participated in what is humorously called "reality TV;" he met with a group of people who post nude photos of themselves on soft-porn websites; he researched the latest tech gadgets that allow us to spy upon one another; he made over 700 new friends on Facebook; and he filled out online surveys in which he exposed his personal details to companies that profit by selling his information to others. In other words, he did the very things so many of us have been doing for a number of years (well, maybe with the exception of posing in the nude for web photos).

Niedzviecki thoroughly explores the downside of Peep Culture, a downside that is particularly dangerous to young people on the cusp of maturing into the adults they will be for the rest of their lives. He notes that college administrators, hiring managers, credit managers, insurance investigators and others, are as aware of sites like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube as anyone else - and that they often pre-screen applicants based on what they see on those sites. Not surprisingly, what makes a high school or college student popular among his peers (primarily an ability to party with the best of them), is the very thing that could cost him admittance to the college of his choice, a high-paying job after college, or reasonably priced car or health insurance.

Niedzviecki spends surprisingly little time exploring the more positive aspects of Peep Culture. How, for instance, those finding it most difficult to make face-to-face friends often eliminate depression and raise self-esteem in the process of making dozens of new friends on-line - even to the point of using their new found confidence to make friends locally. Or how easy it is for like-minded people to find each other and share a passion about some obscure subject so few others seem to care about. But regardless of whether or not there is a Peep Culture "pro" to match every Peep Culture "con," there is no going back to the way we were even two decades ago. The world has never been smaller, and never before have people been so interconnected for so many hours of the day.

The repetitiveness of Niedzviecki's arguments does, at times, make for dry reading, but "The Peep Diaries" is a nice snapshot of where Peep Culture is today, if not necessarily where it will be this time tomorrow.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and provocative 23 Feb 2010
By Sigrid Macdonald - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In this post-Orwellian era, not only do we fail to worry about vast amounts of data being collected by Big Brother, but we eagerly offer reams of private information about ourselves to him on a platter, argues Toronto author Hal Niedzviecki. We blog, tweet, post videos of neighbors in embarrassing situations, plaster pictures of ourselves half naked or hungover on social networking sites, and apply in droves to participate on reality TV shows. What's going on? What fuels this need of ours to watch and be watched?

It starts with our caveman desire to belong and be part of a community, Niedzviecki explains. As social animals, we're hardwired to connect with one another and to feel special or important. Historically, people lived in small villages which fulfilled that function. Everyone knew each other and everybody's business. Everyone had a place and was acknowledged in some way. Now we're global and mobile; we don't stay in the same town, we don't have intact nuclear families, let alone extended ones, and we're becoming increasingly alienated from the church and organized religion.

We're also frantically busy. Most families have two income earners and kids who are involved in sports and afterschool activities. Where is the free time to make friends, to hang out, to relax and reflect upon our day? Enter the Internet with its seductive message -- instant friends on Facebook! If you're unpopular at school, no worries. Post videos on YouTube and become a quasi-celebrity. We expose ourselves in the hope of making genuine connections, but does it work or is it illusory?

One of the best parts of this exceedingly well researched book is that Niedzviecki claims no easy answers. Unlike other nonfiction works that assert the Net and reality TV are dumbing us down, or making the new generation the most narcissistic imaginable, The Peep Diaries understands that not everything is black-and-white. In fact, most things in life, including the use of surveillance cameras, social networking and reality footage are complex and contradictory. They can't easily be assessed and dismissed into one good or bad category. Moreover, Niedzviecki is a consumer who immersed himself in peep culture, not solely as an experiment but also as a lifestyle -- he's still there despite the risks involved in revealing personal information about himself, which could be used against him, or out of context, by law enforcement, neighbors, employers or advertisers.

The old Shakespearean saying, "All the world's a stage..." has never been more true. In the modern wired world, we're always acting, creating personas online to impress and capture the hearts and attention of others. We have turned ourselves into products that we pitch to each other. When we take photos now, in the back of our minds we're wondering how this will look on MySpace. If we don't like a photo, we delete it -- we act as though the moment never happened; when we're at events, including the Olympics, we're stopping to tweet about how much fun we're having. If we're having that much fun, how can we stand to stop in order to tweet? The Peep Diaries has no easy answers for these hard questions, but it gives us all a starting place to look at our comfort with "oversharing," obsessively tracking and incessantly micro-blogging in search of an emotional connection that may always elude us electronically.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, fascinating, informative read 8 July 2009
By Beth DeRoos - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Wow. One of the best and most attention holding books I have read in a long time.

How many of us, when we walk out the door each day ever pause to ask ourselves 'who is watching me'? And if we do, how many of us assume, if anyone is watching us, its probably the red stop light cameras or cameras at the ATM machine at the bank? And yes, we know of the successful use of cameras in homes that have caught abusive baby sitters and even thieves in the process of robbing the home owner.

Now I know that all stores, banks, ATM machines etc have cameras. But how many people know that gas station pumps have cameras that show you are using pump number 3 that is for the low octane gas? What about the bathroom in the restaurant you go to? Or the neighbor who has a camera hooked up to show everything not only outside his home but across the street and within eye shop on both sides? What about the rental car that shows not only if you are speeding but shows if you are eating or drinking while driving? What about the insurance companies who want hidden data to be recorded that shows if you speed or do reckless activities? Do you know how many photos of videos you share online are banked by servers or the photos on your My Space or FaceBook? How many people pause to think about the fact that everything you share online will be saved for decades and possibly centuries?

And the sexual sites where average people either on a fluke or intentionally, share intimate photos. Like the group of people in the book who belong to a couple sexual sites who get together to talk about life and how they have fun being wild spirits. Yet often with little if any thought to how photos shared can be searched with server codes, so that prospective employers can see if you are someone they want working for them. How many people know that Google offers a site so that anyone anywhere in the world can see not only the area you live in, but by zooming in, can see you sunbathing or swimming naked in your rural back yard, which you chose to live in because it was rural, isolate and private?

The book poses a series of fascinating questions, that people should be asking themselves. Will we have a few rebels who will go off the grid and become modern day hermits, where the only interaction outside their small abode, is face to face with like minded private folks who don't use banks, email, phones? Will these rebels create a back lash in regard to modern technology? I consider myself one of these rebels in the making. The book also starts out by discussing reality television and how the makers edit what you see, so that reality isnt really reality. Think of the five days of filming Trading Spaces or shows like Wife Swap, and how days and days and days of filming are reduced to an hour of television. Then ask yourself, what is going on the other 168 hours.

With the talk of national health care and computer generated records of our doctor visits, has anyone asked the serious questions regarding identity theft issues we already are dealing with and what happens if someone dislikes you and hacks into your medical records to change what is there so that you now have AIDS or it says you have sued a doctor and thus you find yourself being black listed?

As I write this review National Public Radio has had someone on talking about summer camp experiences and how today's summer camps now have Internet cameras so that parents back home can see what is going on. And email has replaced the camp letters sent home and the letters asking for more junk snacks. And then they have done stories of banks whose computer set up tracks what you are buying and with the financial down turn, if you are shopping Walmart rather than Macy's you may be red flagged as a 'risk'.

Again the book is a wonderful, fascinating, informative read. Highly recommend it!
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