All these blog posts, images, videos, tweets, dating profiles, and friend updates can be easy to lose track of, which is why in the age of Peep culture we're not shy about searching the Internet for information about friends, coworkers, potential dates, and, really, anybody we want to find out about, including ourselves. Want to know how ingrained Peep culture has already become in our society? I've got one word for you: Google. Several studies have shown that using a search engine is the "solid No. 2" activity "among online tasks after sending and receiving e-mail messages." Sure, we use search engines to find out if a restaurant is recommended or what kind of soil grows the biggest turnips, but more and more we're using online searches to find out about each other. Yet another Pew Internet & American Life study determined that one in three Internet users had looked someone else's name up online and the searches were overwhelmingly for "personal reasons." More recently scholar Mark Andrejevic reported that in his own survey of Internet use "more than three-quarters of the respondents" said that they "had used the Internet to search for information about someone they knew." Half of those people reported that they did searches of that nature more than "several times a year or more." So who are they looking for? "More than two-thirds of those who said they'd searched for information online indicated they were looking up their friends, and almost two-thirds had looked up information about a current or former significant other." And why are they researching their friends online? "Several respondents indicated that googling friends online was a form of entertainment born of curiosity, it was just something to do when whiling away the time online."
It's getting harder and harder to keep a secret, so why not just go ahead and make your secrets public? A growing number of projects seem to exist exclusively to encourage confession and revelation as a form of entertainment. The "Cringe" and "Mortified" reading series in New York and Los Angeles, respectively, are ongoing events where you can regale a live audience with something embarrassing like a love letter or a diary entry written back when you were a hormone-addled teen. The widely popular series both have books out now, as well, featuring the most cringe-worthy and mortifying samples of hormonal penmanship. Then there are projects like PostSecret (anonymous secrets written on a postcard and sent to a Web site, also now a series of books and a traveling art show), Bar Mitzvah Disco (Web site and book featuring photos and stories about embarrassing seventies Jewish coming-of-age parties) and Found, a zine, Web site and book series dedicated to found notes such as "Mario, I ******* hate you, you said you had to work so whys your car here at her place?? You're a ******* liar, I hate you, I ******* hate you. Amber. P.S. Page me later."
You can't make this stuff up. That's why we're drawn to it. Again and again, Peep culture shows us how easy it is for reality to trump fiction. SMITH Magazine has started the online site Memoirville, which features various themed "memoirs" that are more like Twitters or blog posts than carefully considered reflections on life lived. The options include the "Six Word Memoir" in which you are charged with the task of telling your story in six words (there's a book of these titled after one of the submissions: Not Quite What I Was Planning). Or you can tell a story about a past relationship: "Everyone has an ex. Spill your guts, search your soul, and tell us all about it. You'll be glad you did." Then there's the invitation to recount "encounters with celebrities": "Tell us a personal story about an unexpected encounter with a celebrity as he or she entered your world...landing, like an alien, without warning."