The Peep Diaries: Chapter 1
Obviously blog creation and readership is a slippery number, but for our purposes all we really need to know is that these are big numbers, growing numbers, numbers that clearly suggest universal social acceptance: "Ordinary" people want to put their lives into the (mass) mediated environment. And other "ordinary" people want to read about those lives, which is why when you start a blog you never know who's going to read it. For every blog visited by ten, twenty or one hundred people, there are blogs like Jennette Fulda's Half of Me, about the Indianapolis woman's commitment to losing weight. Fulda's blog started like all blogs, with little or no readership, but now has almost 50,000 unique visitors a month who follow her attempts to go from 350 to 160 pounds.
And still the number of bloggers pales in comparison to the number of us who are regular users of social networks like MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, Reunion, MyYearbook, and LinkedIn. We're talking about over 200 million people with profiles, who every day post status updates, pictures of themselves and their friends, and more. In Canada there are ten million Facebook users, a staggering one-third of the country's population and second only to the thirty million U.S. users, which, though falling well short of Canada's Facebook obsession, is still a huge number: 10 percent of the entire U.S. population. (As of fall 2008 there were an estimated hundred million or so Facebookers worldwide.) Anyone who's ever lost a few hours clicking on the profile pictures of friends and friends' friends knows what Peep is all about. It's about feeling the hours slipping away as you drift wherever the current takes you. It's about wanting to know everything about everyone and, in turn, wanting to make sure that everyone knows everything about you. As with all things Peep, social networks are addictive and instinctual—why wouldn't you want to make "friends" with the click of button? In an age where parks are replaced by condos and fewer and fewer people know their neighbors, the urge to connect to like-minded people can be incredibly powerful. No wonder there are now social networks for recovering addicts; book lovers; divorcees; people with cats, dogs, and kindergartners; people living with chronic illness; and those who aspire to be on reality TV.
Social networking shares many characteristics with online dating—the posting of profiles, the eagerness to connect, the (often unspoken) promise that disembodied revelation might one day lead to actual physical interaction. So it's no surprise that dating sites continue to do a brisk business as both a way for people to meet and a way for people to peep each other. Popular dating site PlentyofFish.com attracts 600,000 people a day. Jdate.com, a site for Jewish singles, boasts 500,000 regular users, and AshleyMadison.com, a site for married people on the prowl for discreet affairs, claims 125,000 daily visitors. You may not think of these sites as Peep culture but they are. Your dating profile is inevitably a source of entertainment for other users. I remember hanging out with a friend, recently divorced, who had joined several dating sites. We spent hours reading profiles, looking at pictures, contemplating the mixed messages behind the communiqués sent to him by possibly interested women. In the age of Peep, personals and dating sites are fair game as recreational Web surfing.