AAAAAAAAHHHHH! OMG you guys!
I am so excited for today! I haven’t been this amped for anything since August 5.
It’s Hal Niedzviecki day!
For those of you not familiar with his work, allow me to debrief you (that’s what she said).
Hal is one of my favourite writers, this terrific social critic and fiction writer from Toronto. He co-founded Broken Pencil magazine. He’s written a bunch of great books, like “Hello, I’m Special: How Individuality Became the New Conformity,” “We Want Some Too: Underground Desire and the Re-invention of Mass Culture” and “Ditch.” His newest work, “The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching ourselves and Our Neighbours” is going gangbusters; he’s currently working on a documentary on the same topic and living his life online for the sake of science, via twitter, facebook, youtube, and more. He’s even made O Magazine’s list of top 25 summer reads (something that I find deeply impressive, because I straight up love my O Magazine, people).
Anyway, Hal is here in Edmonton tonight, discussing “The Peep Diaries” at the Humanities Centre at the U of A. The last time I was this excited about being in the same room as one of my favourite Canadian media figures, I was 12 and appearing on the same episode of Edmonton Now! as Michael Slipchuk. But that’s another story entirely.
Where I’m going with all this is that I had the chance to interview Hal earlier this month after finding out he was going to be in Edmonton to promote the book.
“Basically in the book, my main argument is that we’re moving from pop culture to a peep culture. In pop culture, we spent a lot of our leisure time watching celebrities perform. In peep culture, we’re spending more and more time watching each other,” he explains. “We’re in the midst of a very big shift in our entertainment culture and, of course, your entertainment culture is a big part of your every day life…how we shape our own identities.”
The Peep Diaries is a sometimes funny, sometimes creepy look at how much of ourselves we’re exposing to the Internet in exchange for the reward of community participation. Particularly entertaining, in my opinion, are the parts where Hal, who makes no bones about his discomfort in participating in this exchange, tries to expose himself on the Internet (No, not like that, perverts).
“It’s still something that I struggle with. When I talk about this stuff, I don’t usually talk about it from my personal perspective that much. We’ve been shooting this documentary based on the book [and] part of that is me trying to be more personal and doing more stuff to peep myself. And again, it’s been a real struggle where the director is like ‘You’re not really revealing enough.'”
“I sort of try, but I get this feeling that it’s not really me. I’m not that person who’s necessarily very comfortable revealing the intimate details of my life.”
That may be for the best, especially given the kind of attention “The Peep Diaries” has garnered. I ask about his inclusion on Oprah Magazine’s summer reading list.
“When I write books, I don’t usually think very much about, ‘this is going to be the one everyone’s going to notice’ or whatever. I’m sure that the bulk of my career will be spent in relative obscurity,” he laughs.
“For me the actual interesting irony was not so much the ‘relatively obscure writer put into mainstream magazine,’ but the irony of Oprah herself being a pioneer of peep culture. She was one of the first people in the 80s to bring other people’s lives to a mass audience.”
I ask if he’s noticed any parallels between the zine culture he has featured in Broken Pencil for the last ten years and the peep culture in his book.
“Zines were one thing,” He says. “You would rarely find a zine that would reach more than a few hundred people.”
Peep culture, as he explains, is different.
“People were not just putting their most heartfelt emotions online, [they] were also posting pictures and videos without any regard for what they were putting out into the world,” he says. “It’s such a change from, say, even 50 years ago.”
“When we think about the good things in peep culture – the ability to connect with people, the ability to appreciate other peoples’ struggles – those are the good elements. But usually, there is almost always some sort of pre-existing relationship that has to be in place. Because otherwise, it’s not going to deepen, or affirm, or lead to anything that affirms community and individuality and human life. Otherwise, we have the opposite effect, which is turning people in abstract bits of entertainment: the celebrification of normal people.”
“The struggle is how do you do it? How do you keep people remembering there’s really people on the other side of all those wires?”
Catch Hal, along with panelists Kevin Haggerty, Cecily Devereux and Liz Czach, tonight, 7:30 p.m., Humanities Centre L-3. Also, check out another interview with Hal in the Edmonton Journal.