Dani Shapiro
January 26, 2009

On Visibility

A friend sent me a remarkable essay that really got me thinking about solitude, invisibility and visibility. In it, the author writes: “The great contemporary terror is anonymity. If Lionel Trilling was right, if the property that grounded the self, in Romanticism, was sincerity, and in modernism it was authenticity, then in postmodernism it is visibility.”

I tossed and turned last night after reading the essay, thinking about all sorts of ways that this societal hunger for visibility has entered my life–because I realize that I don’t like it. Take blogging, for instance. I found myself thinking about why I blog. When I first started, it was at the urging of my publisher and my husband because I had a novel coming out, and this is what writers do now. We blog, and do video promotional trailers. We hope (slightly more than we dread) that we’re invited to go on talk shows. We are creatures whose natural habitat is solitude, and yet visibility is the way our books sell, and if I’m completely honest it’s probably something more than that. We live in a culture in which, if we’re not seen, we don’t exist.

As I continued to toss and turn, I found myself thinking about Facebook, with which I really have a love/hate relationship. The essay tipped the balance toward hate, I must say. What does it mean that I have many hundreds of Facebook friends? That I receive status updates on people I don’t know, informing me that so-and-so is cooking paella for dinner, or that so-and-so is giddy about the election? At its best, Facebook has reconnected me with childhood friends, and is also a great way for me to let my reader/fans know about upcoming events–which is why I joined in the first place. So why, now, am I checking Facebook multiple times a day to see what everybody is up to? Why is solitude suddenly, increasingly difficult? Why do I write status updates myself? Just this weekend I wrote: Dani is groggy but happy. Who cares?

As I write a book that has forced me into greater depths of solitude, the internet is the way I pull myself out of it. I’ve told myself that it’s a better distraction than taking a drive, or making a lunch date. It takes less time. I don’t have to leave my desk. But I wonder. I wonder if the constant, easy one-click access to a world of people is simply a way of staving off deeper thought, not to mention boredom. Often, after I’ve spent time zooming around the web looking for…what? news? gossip? random tidbits of distracting information?…my brain has literally felt fried. Like that old TV commercial about drugs: This is your brain. This is your brain on the internet.

I don’t really know what to do about any of this, other than to be aware of it. As for blogging, well–blogging feels somewhat different to me. I try to blog only when I actually have something to say beyond meaningless newsflashes like Dani is groggy but happy.