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    Op-Ed: In nation of exhibitionists, there’s still a demand for privacy

    At the Washington Post, Michael Gerson writes an opinion column about the disconnect between what he sees as a United States full of people willing to put their lives on public display and the same individuals’ demand for privacy.

    Just weeks after the Supreme Court took a landmark case featuring a demand for greater communication privacy, many took to Facebook to reveal the color of the bra they were wearing. In a breast cancer awareness effort, women (mostly women, I assume) updated their profiles with words such as “black,” “leopard” or (interestingly) “camouflage.”

    It is the paradox of the cyber era: A nation of exhibitionists demanding privacy. […]

    The Internet is known for its milestones of exhibitionism. In 1996, Jennifer Ringley began broadcasting her entire life — from brushing her teeth to making love — on the Internet. In 1998, Elizabeth Ann Oliver delivered her baby live on the Web. In 2001, Josh Harris presented his breakup with his girlfriend and his nervous breakdown for Internet consumption.

    But the real revolution of the Internet has been to make personal disclosure routine. Some, via Twitter, Facebook and the like, have taken to afflict others with a constant stream of their random thoughts — an avocation that a columnist has no business to criticize. Less understandable to me are the revelations once reserved for the most intimate friends. Transparency has become disconnected from intimacy. It is not just that the young and irresponsible proudly record the details of their love life or the excesses of Saturday night (sometimes to their later regret). I still find it jarring when someone announces the death of a loved one on Facebook, and the messages of condolence come in from “friends” who are really strangers. […]

    While America worries about the legal protection of privacy and abandons its practice, the reticent, necessarily denied attention, still deserve praise. Writes the poet C.K. Williams:

    More and more lately, as, not even minding the slippages yet, the aches and sad softenings, I settle into my other years, I notice how many of what I once thought were evidences of repression, sexual or otherwise, now seem, in other people anyway, to be varieties of dignity, withholding, tact.

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