According to eagle-eyed trendspotters at the Times, the Internet overshare has changed shape. The new thing to reveal isn't your latest breakup or emotional meltdown — it's your credit card statement.
Brad Stone writes about a variety of cutesy-named services (Blippy, Swipely) that allow users to share their purchasing history with the world. Here's how Mark Brooks uses these awesome new powers:
Mr. Brooks, a 38-year-old consultant for online dating Web sites, seems to be a perfect customer. He publishes his travel schedule on Dopplr. His DNA profile is available on 23andMe. And on Blippy, he makes public everything he spends with his Chase Mastercard, along with his spending at Netflix, iTunes and Amazon.com.
"It's very important to me to push out my character and hopefully my good reputation as far as possible, and that means being open," he said, dismissing any privacy concerns by adding, "I simply have nothing to hide."
I guess the fact that this guy sounds to me like a character in a dystopian novel (wherein his name would simply be Perfect Customer) shows that I am old. Also revealing my oldness: a friend and I were talking just last night about the cult of the confessional in the pre-blog days of Xanga and LiveJournal, when often-anonymous users would spill their hearts and guts in purple online prose. This spirit spilled over into blogs, too, and there was a time when to be a successful blogger was to be completely, almost terrifyingly candid about the darkest aspects of one's personal life, perhaps more candid than one would be offline. And then, my friend and I agreed, this spirit ended. I pointed to the backlash against Emily Gould's piece on her blogging life in the Times Magazine, and to the password-protection of several eating disorder blogs I'd been following. The latter was likely an effort to keep trolls out of what can be very sensitive discussions, but I felt it also signaled a renewed interest in privacy, a desire to keep complicated conversations within small communities, rather than throwing them open to the world at large.
But now, apparently people are throwing open their wallets. I'm not sure how huge a trend this actually is — Blippy got 125,000 visitors last month, which is impressive but a small minority of the Internet-using world. Still, as icked out as everyone was by the airing of dirty laundry on the Internet, I'm more disturbed by the airing of old receipts. The emotional overshare has its problems (which we've complained about in the past), but confessional online writing can encourage the discussion of taboo topics and, at the very least, touch on things that actually matter deeply in people's lives. Unlike, say, what they got from Netflix.
As signs of the apocalypse go, Blippy is pretty mild, but I am a little disturbed by the replacement of sharing emotions with sharing products — a process also on display in super-popular haul videos. The fetishization of taste has long been a part of American middle-class culture (maybe it's been a part of bourgeois life ever since such life existed?), but it's even easier to define people by what they buy when a website aggregates all that data for you. And is there a more depressing way to define "character" than with your Chase bill? Then again, to a previous generation, telling secrets to an audience of strangers was a sure sign of the downfall of civilization — and perhaps the moment when you begin predicting this downfall is the moment when you cease to be cool. And judging by some of my most recent purchases (trash bags, oatmeal, a single onion), that moment for me has arrived.