The Publicity of Private Lives

Published: 01st June 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st June 2014 12:58 AM   |  A+A-

My guests had just left. I was clearing away the debris, when my phone beeped. “You had a party. Why wasn’t I invited?” “Where did you buy the purple pendant lamps that are in your dining room?” The first message was from a colleague; the second from an acquaintance who’s never been to my house. How did the two know about 1) the party; and 2) the lights? Two words: social media. My guests had—as guests these days are wont to do—loaded photos of the party outfits, eats and decor on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/God-knows-what-else even before Pharrell Williams sang It might seem crazy what I’m about to say. The collective follower count of my rather socially-active guests gave me pause; one of them, I knew, had 1.3 million followers on Twitter. Still, no harm done, I thought, and set about replying.

But the next morning’s message creeped me out. “You’ve been up for an hour. Why haven’t you returned my call?” wrote an irate friend. “How could you possibly know when I woke up?” I messaged back. “WhatsApp says you were ‘last seen at 8 am’,” came the quick answer.

Gulp. Was nothing private anymore? Clearly, not. 

Privacy has become the collateral damage of 24x7 connectivity. Our every action/movement/interest is now available to the public—through various social networks. We don’t even need to be the one doing the publicising; other people can do that for us through their updates and pictures—with or without our consent. Sometimes we don’t even need people—as my friend’s ‘WhatsApp’ revelation revealed.

And what social networks can’t provide, the Internet can. Just a few clicks on a computer and we can learn the weirdest detail of absolute strangers. After half an hour with my laptop yesterday, for instance, I discovered that Narendra Modi weighs around 84 kg; wears size 9 shoes and suffers from backaches and swollen feet if he stands for too long. I learnt that he wears Bulgari glasses, keeps a comb in his pocket, writes with a Mont Blanc pen and wears a Movado watch. I also know that our new Prime Minister is fastidious about wearing well-ironed clothes and that his kurtas are stitched by the Chauhan brothers of Jade Blue in Ahmedabad. I gather that Modi knows how to cook, sleeps no more than five hours a day, logs on to the Internet every day at 7 am and checks all that is written about him, and likes to vet the portraits sent out by his publicists.

Is any of this information useful to me? No. A lot of it may not even be accurate. But do I enjoy knowing it? Of course.

Because I, like everyone else, am a people watcher-cum-trivia junkie who delights in studying folks, specially celebrities, anonymously. Isn’t that why Facebook works? According to Harvard Business School professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, who tracks social media relentlessly, the network’s success can be attributed largely to people’s love of stalking. As per Piskorski’s research, 80 per cent of Facebook activity is related to viewing other people’s content and only 8-9 per cent is dedicated to posting one’s own news or views.

Given that, I’ve decided to change the upholstery in my living room and use make-up every day. If my home and I are to be held up for scrutiny around the clock, the least we can do is pretty up for it.

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