I was talking with my oldest daughter about fame. She is of the generation for whom total disclosure seems natural, easy, the norm. She still doesn’t see its dangers (stalkers only exist in movies, right?), although for the first time she seems to see that there may be a downside to it. We talked about celebrity and loss of freedom.
My conversation with my daughter came back to me today when I read an interview in GQ with the actress Michelle Williams in which she told of her paparazzi-plagued life following Heath Ledger’s death. She describes feeling trapped, like she was losing her mind, for she was unable to “make it go away,” not only for herself but for her child… “Trying to find ways to explain it or shield her from it. It’s like you’re trying to go about your life, and make dinner…but the roof is off of your house, and the walls are falling down.”
The roof is off your house… Protecting the privacy of self and family used to be a parent’s responsibility. It still is, while they are small, I suppose…but what about when that same child, or the family member, the friend, the lover, exposes themselves? And what about if they expose you in turn? Seems we are all treading that thin wire between honesty and overexposure, between what is mine, what is yours, what is ours. Public, private.
We talk a lot about social media. It’s kind of fascinating to see how differently my kids view it, how natural it seems for them…how unnatural it seems, still, to me. She and her brother think I’m a bit loopy when I express any concerns about exposing too much of the self, about wanting to guard some things inside, about privacy. None of this matters much to them in the context of their lives. If in a distant future someone is looking for digital skeletons theirs will be no different from those of anyone else their age.
Life before digital timelines used to be about stages, about neat little encapsulated moments (high school, college, when I lived here, traveled there), each one separate, unique. What was shared and what was not depended on who the audience was, and much was forgotten, unphotographed, undocumented. There was often little overlap, unless you stayed in the same town forever, which few of us do. Amen. Memory was purely a thing of the mind, for better, for worse, and it was always colored by your own palette.
At this rate (and assuming some sort of facebook exists, which I have no doubt it will albeit in another or multiple other forms) how many virtual friends will they have in 10, 20, 30 years? Will they remember all of them? Will they know fame, and what will that mean since in a way everyone has a taste of it now? Will their life choices be different because their past follows them around like a lost puppy? Will they be as free to create a life for themselves, to reinvent, to love and to lose without fear of everyone knowing about it? Will they know the sadness of losing touch with someone and the joy of regaining it?
Chill, Mama. That’s what they would say, and they would laugh. And they are right. I do hope though, that they can always walk down the street without being followed or photographed, that they can love who they wish without it being written about, and that their fame will be limited to a screen here and there. That they may never feel trapped. I want technology to open their worlds, not close them in. I want them to be free.
(And that includes, by the way, an internet which is uncensored.)