We're all exhibitionists now

Our right to privacy is being eroded but we're happy to give it away for a taste of fame


It must be an age thing. When I get a call on the bus or the train, I either don't answer my phone, or I tell the caller that I'll ring back. The idea that other people can hear my half of a conversation – whether it's of a sensitive nature or not – makes me shrivel with embarrassment.

It's not that I'm a particularly private person: I'm on Twitter, and have been known to share my thoughts, interests or even whereabouts with a lot of people I've never met. But I draw the line at forcing strangers to listen to what I'm saying on the phone. I've noticed that people much younger than I do not have any such inhibitions, and they simply don't realise that what they are doing is imposing themselves on others.

Today I sat next to a young woman on the bus, and she spent the entire journey on the phone to a friend of hers, complaining about another friend. She was speaking so loudly that it was impossible for her fellow passengers not to hear her. A few of us exchanged knowing glances, but no one intervened to tell her how anti-social her behaviour was. Perhaps we were enjoying it too much, the rhythmic timbre of someone else's minutiae providing comfort first thing in the morning.

"I don't know who these friends are that she's talking about," she said at one point, “and who sends a catch-up email without giving any details about herself?” The periods of silence were broken up by the oft-repeated “Exactly... exactly”. She was still talking when she got off the bus, completely unaware of the effect she'd had on others on the bus.

Earlier, I'd been listening to Start the Week on Radio 4. The subject was confession – in the widest sense, and with particular reference to the Catholic Church – and in his introduction, Andrew Marr made the point that we live in the most confessional culture of all time. “The urge to show all, and tell all, for millions of us, is irresistible,” he said. From social media, to radio phone-ins, to what he called “the moral cage fight of the Jeremy Kyle Show”, we let it all hang out.

But I think it's less about the confessional and more about exhibitionism. Not so much the desire to purge, more to show off, or an egotistical belief that everything we do or say is inherently important. (The woman on the bus was a good example of this.) There is a wider point, however, which relates to the idea that while people are happy to go in front of a television audience to confess their sins, the number of Catholics going to the confession box has dropped by a huge degree. It's that the concept that private doesn't matter that much today. In fact, some people would rather their private life became public. It makes them feel important. That's why there isn't the uproar there should be about Google tracking our every movement, and sharing that information. We put so much about ourselves in the public domain that we can hardly complain when it's used by someone else. Exactly, said the woman on the No.14.

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