Monday, November 08, 2010

T.M.I. The Confessional Generation

It used to be that there were things we just didn't talk about outside the family. People had their secrets. 'Need to know' was the measuring stick for what was OK to reveal outside these four walls. Some things were never meant to be shared with anyone but a doctor or a priest. There was a condition known as shame that helped keep things bottled up inside - for better or for worse. As the pendulum swings it reaches an apex on either end which leads me to ask how far can this confessional culture go?

Psychologists may agree that keeping things too tightly bound up is ultimately unhealthy for the individual. When, however, is too much information too much? In the world of the Internet, cell phones, texting, Facebook and Twitter the younger generation reveals all, willingly and with glee. All of us have encountered the cell phone user in a public place carrying on a much too personal conversation. It's quite uncomfortable and actually it's really annoying.

The children of my generation coming at the tail end of the baby boom had our gossip chains and whisper campaigns (or louder when alcohol was involved), but there were lines that were not crossed. We had our confidants, our circle of friends that were close and most certainly personal. The Facebook/Twitter generation seemingly has no shame, no filters and no sense of what is appropriate. Nothing is too personal anymore. Because of the distance both physically and emotionally many of these so-called friends are altogether impersonal. Frankly, it's unsettling.

One thing that clearly separates the baby boomers from generation-next is what we revealed to our parents. Simply put - as little as possible. Not so today. Honestly there are things I will never tell my mother - not her business for one and not good for her psyche for another. There are things parents don't need to know. Today the kids involve us in everything. These days it seems it's the parents running around with their hands over their ears yelling "I can't hear you, I can't hear you."

Obviously the modern media has played a major part in this. Raunchy reality TV shows remove any semblance of decorum or personal shame in a calculated attempt at shock and awe. What it succeeds in doing is completely desensitizing a whole generation of kids to what is really OK to air in public. Movies have pushed the envelope for generations blurring the lines between appealing and appalling. What was called blasphemy centuries ago was called indecent generations ago is now called edgy. Everyone wants to be edgy.

The confessional culture extends beyond the attention driven, self centered celebrity class (ie: Paris Hilton or Charlie Sheen) to the political class and all the way to the top. I learned way too much about President Clinton in the late 1990's. A simple rule of thumb should be that what we would not want to know about our grandparents we would not want to know about the President and our leaders. Some illusion of their superiority needs to exist if we are to have any respect for them at all. Yet, tell all books even dig back into history exposing failures and the indigressions of our most esteemed heroes. To what end I ask?

In the interest of full disclosure I joined Facebook too. I do not Twitter. I rarely text and I hate reality shows (except for American Chopper). Facebook has some redeeming value if you don't take it too far. I joined in advance of a class reunion and it was excellent for reconnecting with old friends and coordinating reunion related events. Since the reunion in mid-July I have been on Facebook a half a dozen times max. I must say it makes a really great bulletin board.

I struggle to imagine that the confessional generation will extend into the indefinite future. Revealing too much will have it's consequences. Facebook, MySpace, personal blogs and YouTube are already being used by HR departments to pre-screen potential employees. What you confess by way of what you say, respond to and the pictures you post could be costly in ways you'll never know. People are already losing their jobs because of things they've posted on social websites.

Plus, in all honestly, at the risk of sounding crude, let me just say - does anybody really need to that shit? Please keep it to yourself.