I have a confession to make: I am a lurker. That’s right *show slide*:
I hang around forums and follow the latest arguments with all the fascination of watching a train wreck. I might look at all your Facebook photos after I meet you, to see the kind of person you were before you met me. But more than anything, what makes me a lurker is my refusal to participate. I have a LiveJournal, but even though I visit it at least twice a week, my last update was in July. I’d rather see what my friends (and their friends) are writing about than tell them anything about me. And you know what? I’m not alone. Studies done by *show slide*
these two lovely people from 2000 to 2006 confirm that at least 90% of the people who have registered accounts on online forums rarely, if ever, post anything. Lured by the ability to see other people but not be seen themselves, this group of people have become a new kind of silent majority. They are the audience of a show that is played out on the internet’s stage, one that is getting more interesting by the day. So what show are we lurkers watching? Here’s an example:*show slide*.
The premise of the site is simple: write down your deepest, darkest secret on the back of a postcard, then mail it anonymously to some guy named Frank in Pennsylvania. He’ll read it, then either keep it to himself, or show it to the world through his blog or art pieces. Frank claims the postcards are inspirational to those who read them and have healing powers for those who write them. I won’t disagree with him. However, I do submit that there is another reason people write and read these postcards, one that brings me to the second part of this talk. *show slide*
Don’t worry: Postsecret has yet to feature any pictures of genitalia on the blog. At least, not literally. But by posting what we don’t have the courage to say aloud, Postsecret is giving everybody the chance to display something equally as intimate – Postsecret gives us all the chance to be exhibitionists. Or does it? Are you truly telling a secret when no one knows your name? If the only thing that gives people the courage to share their secrets is the guarantee of anonymity, then the line distinguishing the lurkers who read Postsecret from those people who contribute to it has become very blurred. What I propose is a new definition of exhibitionism, one that encompasses both the lurkers like me who prefer the power of privacy and the Postsecret contributors who want to be an anonymous voice in an anonymous crowd. *show slide*
Neo-Exhibitionism: the freedom of behavior that accompanies anonymity, revealed by both the compulsion to reveal personal information to complete strangers and to bear witness to private confessions made by complete strangers. This is not a new concept: librarians for years have been subject to both ends of the spectrum. There have always been a few patrons who treat the reference desk as a confessional (much to our embarrassment), and other patrons who will hover endlessly around the desk but refuse to voice their question when asked. The advent of the internet, however, complicated the issue. Bruce Schneider’s blog post “In Praise of Security Theater” described the ideal security situation as being one in which a person’s feeling of security matches as closely as possible with their actual state of security. In the case of neo-exhibitionism, there are two kinds of imbalance. On the one hand there is the lurker, who does not feel secure enough to actively seek information online, who might fade into the background with his questions unanswered. On the other, there is the Postsecretcontributer, who feels so anonymous and secure that she actually puts herself at risk by divulging so much information. *show slide*
(I sometimes wonder why Frank is putting these kinds of photos online.) As information professionals, we must recognize that lurkers and over-contributors are two sides of the same coin, and seek to educate them about the public nature of their online postings while teaching them skills that will give them the confidence in their own information searches.
TED Talk: Privacy and Security Online
Lurk and Learn:Secrecy and Exhibitionism in the Public Forum
lurk, v.To hide oneself; to lie in ambush; to remainfurtively or unobserved about one spot. (O.E.D)lurker, n.“In Internet culture…a person who readsdiscussions on a message board, newsgroup,chatroom, file sharing or other interactive system,but rarely or never participates actively.” (Wikipedia)
“PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard.”(description under the first card of every new update)
exhibitionism, n.A psycho sexual disorder characterized by thecompulsion to display ones genitals in public.Also more generally: a tendency towards display;indulgence in extravagant behaviour. (OED)
neo-exhibitionism, n.The freedom of behavior that accompaniesanonymity, revealed by both the compulsion toreveal personal information to complete strangersand to bear witness to private confessions made bycomplete strangers.
Not So Secret:Those little black bars aren’tgoing to cut it .