Sample Chapters: Excerpts

Sample Chapters

Chapter 2: Breaking the Seal: Gossip, Grooming and the (Secret) Allure of Peep (excerpt)


Nobody knows us and we don’t know anybody so we need to send outward signals about who we are that can be instantly understood, signals that are able to indicate both our specialness and our potential openness to alliances with similarly special people. These signals become more and more important. We live in an atomized society of single dwellings, lonely car commutes to work, and tenuous social connections we have to work harder and harder to maintain. In my previous book Hello, I’m Special I wrote about the rise of compulsory individualism, everyone trying to get noticed, everyone trying to become something bigger and more than they are. This environment leads us to pick and choose from an array of communities – pop culture, online, religious, fetishistic – that we think will best tell the story of who we are, situate us in a community that will both affirm our need to be part of the group, and still afford us ongoing opportunities for exposure and re-invention. But these communities only partially connect us to our everyday lives. They leave gaps in the facade of our adopted identities. As a result many people have several different lives all at once. They are one thing at work or school, another thing with their families, and another thing with the handpicked members of communities they’ve adopted to set themselves apart from the mundane of an everyday life that diminishes their specialness. All these overlapping, fragmented communities no longer reign in bad behavior. There’s no cohesive social network to say ‘that’s not the way you conduct yourself on a date, young man’ or censor a neighbor for stealing a newspaper. We are many different people living in many different milieus. As a result, we are responsible to almost no one. We can get away with a lot more.
Our ability to morph and change and disappear is as much a curse as it is a cure. Everyone’s a shapes-shifter. So who do you trust? The arrival of Peep as a primary cultural past-time suggests how much we long for the kind of cohesion and recognition we used to be able to get from the tribe. PostSecret’s Frank Warren talks about a desire for commonality. The creators of Twitter talk about knowing more about people, feeling closer to them. The Hollaback and Don’tDateHim websites are attempts to alleviate loneliness and bring social propriety back to the community milieu. But, as with many of these kinds of sites, the stories are usually posted anonymously, and rarely include anything like identifying characteristics of the bad date-er; so you end up participating in the dispersal of information-as-entertainment: unsubstantiated,  disembodied, passed on as prurient tidbit however harrowing it may be. This is the longing for community hitched to the horse of Peep culture and flayed all the way into town. This is the need for community turned into its opposite: various shaming sites futilely flailing against a raging whirlpool of rudeness while inviting more rudeness as post and counterpost circulate. A neighbor puts video of another neighbor stealing his newspaper on YouTube, eschewing face-to-face discussion in favor of a cyber-policing that ultimately serves to further fragment what little semblance of community we have left. Though our intentions are often heartfelt and instinctual, when gossip goes Peep, community as we once knew it pretty much disappears, replaced by global and transitory nodes that demand our active, constant, participation in re-shaping our identities.
It is in this social context that Peep gossip, the kind of global gossip that spreads via electronic networks and is by its very nature removed from specific communities and localities, becomes the centrepiece of our newly digitalized social lives. Peep tries to fill the gap. We wish gossip still worked. We wish there could be ways to keep people from being total assholes everyday of their lives and being rewarded for their anti-social, hateful, hurtful behavior. We wish there was someone out there who actually cared what we do. At the same time, we have no interest in returning to societies where people were put in stocks and branded because they didn’t believe in the right god in the right way or slept with someone they weren’t supposed to. We want the unstated rules that govern traditional community, but we don’t necessarily want those rules to apply to us. This, in many ways, is the conundrum of modern society and emerging problem of Peep: we yearn for community without the willingness to be hampered by the structures of community.


The Book: The Peep Diaries

The Peep Diaries will be Published by City Lights Books in May 2009
ISBN 1991022

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The Publisher: City Lights

City Lights Books

City Lights Publishers

In June of 1955, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, co-founder of City Lights Bookstore, launched City Lights Publications with the Pocket Poets Series. The first volume was a collection of his own poems, Pictures of the Gone World, which has since become a classic of beat literature and… more...


Author! Author!

Hal Niedzviecki is a writer, culture commentator and editor whose work challenges preconceptions and confronts readers with the offenses of everyday life. He is the author of six books including the novel The Program and the nonfiction book The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves… more...