After discovering an author, or an artist, or a musician that I’m crazy about – I’m talking find-any-opportunity-to-mention-their-book/song/show-crazy – I often like to buzz around my social networks and see which of my peers feel similarly. You know, for solidarity. A simple search on Twitter can tell me who else follows them. An acquaintance studying for a Masters in English Literature also has a taste for contemporary American fiction? Unsurprising. Feeling buoyed by my new-found kinship, I maybe decide to cast a cursory glance at the artist’s facebook presence, checking to see who has been more vocal about their appreciation. Oh, just the journalist I met at that party. Sweet.
But what’s this? Is that… is that the artist’s actual profile? Clicking, I see that we have no mutual friends – but I also see his friends. A few more clicks and I’m able to scrutinise the company he keeps, his spouse, his choice of cover photo. I’m even able to stream a video of his young child taking his first steps: 139 likes. At that point I recoil slightly – have I delved too deep? Is this lax set of security settings a blessing for Christy the ever-interested fan, or a deeply troubling intrusion made by Christy the voyeur?
Whilst I of course feel revulsion for the culture of zero privacy for those in the public eye – typified by a class of response to the recent celebrity nude photo leaks that says that it is the public’s ‘right to see’ – I cannot claim to be so restrained that I can stop myself from burrowing down the rabbit hole that is the ‘wall of shame’ on tabloid websites. I have little (well, maybe some) interest in Kim Kardashian’s professional career, but in moments of weakness I gleefully click through photos of her transformation from ‘parent podge’ to ‘beach bod’. Similarly, I am somewhat intrigued by what pictures of George Clooney’s new wife look like. I guess I believe on some level that understanding their existence could benefit my own.
And I’m not exactly averse to flicking through any public offering on acquaintances’ facebook profiles. Friends’ partners, friends’ single mutual friends, someone that once taught me history’s wife’s sister – I’ll flick through anything. I’ll devour the intimacy, the mundanity of it all.
So why do I feel so weird diving into the personal life of someone I admire?
Probably because I’m not supposed to. That, and the manner in which I brushed alongside Ben Lerner’s life was so far removed from the norm – unsanitized, unpackaged, understated – that I maybe felt disoriented. Shouldn’t the baby video come with ads? Suggestions for further videos? Links to embarrassing photos?
It’s perhaps to be celebrated that in an age of immediacy and general malaise about personal boundaries, some moments online still have the power to shock. Maybe my lack of desire to learn more about Mr Lerner’s family life is proof that generation Y is not doomed. Sure, we don’t flinch at beheadings – most people my age actively sought out the videos – but we can call it quits after witnessing something emotional explicitly produced for close family.