I'm A Creep

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What is it about the human condition that makes us interested in the personal and public business of one another?

People would like to have you believe that they have, indeed, evolved beyond the point of needing the public’s attention. If those same people have a Facebook profile, Twitter feed or have uploaded (or even watched) a video to YouTube, they’re lying to you. Like all people (except for those who are really cut-off from society or off the grid), Social Media proves one thing magnificently well: no matter what we do, it’s important to have the attention of other people, and that no matter what we do, we like to see what others are up to.

I wish I was special.

What is really happening when you post a photo to Facebook? What about a tweet on Twitter? What about when you broadcast your location via Foursquare? You’re looking for attention and you’re looking for some kind of recognition/acknowledgement from your social graph. Many people will read this and think that’s a negative thing. It isn’t. Take a quick re-look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and you’ll quickly be reminded how important love, belonging, esteem and self-actualization is to our personal development. Social Media has an amazing way to solve the "look at me!" internal dialogue that we all have.

I want you to notice.

We don’t just post and share things for ourselves (don’t kid yourself). We post things to get people to notice us. If we didn’t, we would simply call those we really wanted to connect to and would keep all of our Social Media private and by invite-only (and, even then, it could be argued that you’re still posting for attention and acknowledgment). On top of that (or if you think you are above that), let’s say you’re not creating or publishing content to garner any attention, you’re still creeping on other people. You’re looking to see people’s profiles and pictures on Facebook. When you see a small avatar of someone on Twitter, you click on it to see what it looks like bigger (especially if you think that they might be good looking). There’s a reason so many pieces of content (mostly images and videos) are being uploaded and shared at such a mass amount online. We like to creep. We like people to creep on us.

Whatever makes you happy.

From gossip and soap operas to professional wrestling and reality television, we love following and burrowing ourselves in the lives of others. So, why is it any shock that Facebook has over 500 million accounts? If given the choice of following a soap opera or having a peek inside the lives of people we know (on whatever level of quality), it shouldn’t surprise anyone (not in the least) that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc… continue to grow flourish. It’s fascinating to hear people say that they would prefer it if brands and marketers were not a part of this. The truth is that we live in one of the most branded generations ever, and that brands play an integral part of who we are, and how we communicate and connect to the world… and there’s nothing wrong with that.

It turns out that I like to watch. And so do you. I’m a creep. And so are you. Have you ever stopped to wonder why?


  1. I see what you did there.
    I don’t think every piece we produce is a grab for attention, though. Sometimes it’s an exercise in creation, sometimes an exercise that helps clarify thought, sometimes it’s just catharsis.
    But one fundamental disagreement I have with your premise is that I could indeed call my sister and brother, then my parents, and share a picture with them. Or I could post it in one place and catch them passively.
    Yes, the technology can enable malignant narcissism; but it’s also a time saver, sharing with those who wish to consume.

  2. I get that we post to get noticed- I’m not sure how much of that is narcissism (not to minimize the effects of that powerful drug), but a chance to catch others in the act of giving a crap.
    The ego rush of realizing that you can post something and potentially thousands of people see it is tantalizing, but the rush wears off quickly when you realize they aren’t really paying attention- 99.9% of the time, anyway.
    I say that because, looking at it from the “creep” point of view, I don’t really look and follow too closely what others are doing on a consistent basis– with the exception of people I would be friends with anyway. Therefore, I don’t expect others to follow me like that as well.
    Perhaps we are merely content to leave signs and breadcrumbs on the Internet, and if people happen to follow them back to us, then all the better.
    By the way, I have a service that pings Twitter when I leave comments (I trust it’s still working!). I’m happy to share the attention with you 😉

  3. You could post those pictures behind a private/secure space that gives them access to them without broadcasting it/having it public to the world too.
    The fact is that Social Media has brought exhibitionism to a whole new level.

  4. Don’t you find that you’ll be out with friends and the conversation inevitably leads to, “I was on Facebook and saw that so-and-so is…” and then someone pops in and talks about the pictures they saw from someone they would hardly consider a friend?
    That was the true inspiration for this post. I heard this at the table I was eating lunch at and at the tables surrounding me. Oh oh, did I just confirm that I’m creeping there too?
    Always happy to hear from you too Doug.

  5. While this article basically sums up everything I’ve been thinking about Facebook/Twitter/Foursquare for a while, I do agree that some things definitely have a purpose other than garnering attention.
    However, you can’t deny that posting constant status updates isn’t begging for someone to comment. Or that Tweeting your current lunch location via Foursquare isn’t pointless beyond telling everyone how cool you are since you’re at x restaurant. Not that there’s anything wrong with these things (because clearly, I, and most everyone, is guilty of them too) but it’s nice when people recognize them for what they are.
    I do think that the narcissistic element is probably much more present in the teenager/young adult demographic, but I agree that everybody is just looking for social approval – and thats okay! We’d never survive without it.

  6. I think the trick for Marketers is in recognizing this and using this (not to our advantage) but as a starting point in listening and engagement in these digital channels.
    The reason we’re on Facebook is – clearly – very different from the reason we watch TV, read magazine and listen to radio. If we start there, it becomes obvious that the old ways of Marketing and Advertising simply won’t work in these channels and platforms.

  7. Sure, we could put it behind specific filters, but we don’t. Because the systems aren’t defaulted that way.
    My wife puts up the occasional pictures of the kids, and she’d love to tweak things so only family could see them. Yet she doesn’t, because it’s a pain to configure. So she puts them out there with the faith that only the people who really cared about looking at them will bother.
    I am in tune with most of what you wrote – and yes, we are becoming more attention-gluttons. But I think you might be assuming intention where lack of technical prowess, laziness or apathy play considerable roles.

  8. We want to be noticed, yes, but I think there’s more to it than.
    We, as humans, must connect with people. Social media gives us that.
    We also want safety and protection, the assurance our feelings won’t be hurt by putting ourselves out there. SM is great at creating that illusion too.
    I can blog and tweet all day long, connecting with people along the way, but the moment someone disagrees with me, I can just block them, moderate them, unfriend them, or ignore them.
    It’s now incredibly easy to find like-minded people that see the world through our same lens. Twitter lists, niche forums & blogs, Facebook groups (or communities or fan pages or whatever the hell they’re calling them now) are all perfect examples of our desire to connect with people that are less likely to attack our fragile egos.

  9. Adding value.
    Doing so makes us feel alive, Carlo Ople mentioned leaving legacies for our great great great grand children through our digital footprints.
    Every tweet, status update, forum post, blog post, comment is a footnote in the vast ocean of experience we call our lives.
    Though my father made it a point to spend much time with us, he always seemed like a stranger (one of the mysteries of life I guess).
    So when he died, you could only imagine my surprise when a few thousand people attended his wake – from simple and poor farmers to wealthy Chinese tycoons.
    My instinct was to google his name – and I found close to nothing.

    When I die, I’d like to leave something to my children in the form of – hey kid, this is me, your dad, this is what I went through, this is what I did to keep you alive and (hopefully) happy in this world.
    In a way, we try to impart whatever experiences we have to people who think that we matter. Family, friends and people whom we believe to stand for something.
    We follow (there’s that word again) people whom we find interesting in the sense that we perceive them to represent an idea, a cause or a movement.
    We “creep” into their profiles to try to see whether they’re the genuine article or just another voice in the millions out there endlessly carried by 0s and 1s every second of the day.

  10. Remember that as your kids get older, their friends will be able to find that content too. Google, Facebook, the Internet is like an elephant: it never forgets.
    Even though the result of this may be due to a lack of technical prowess, we’re going to have to a whole lot of educating over the next long while. We need to ensure that people do understand the ramifications of all of their content being searchable, findable and connectable to people, places, etc…
    Thanks for adding more color and perspective.

  11. In addition, we have to ensure that those we are connected to us want their digital legacies as pubic as people like you and I do. I get a little concerned when I see parents “documenting” their children’s lives online… what happens when they get older, and what if they do not want this type of “record”? New issues and moral questions as the world continually evolves.

  12. My sensei recently dropped a geas on me: Drop Thee No Names.
    Not that I think I’m a sycophant – which is a very distinct extension of the Creep – but I’ve decided to play along.
    It’s interesting how the simple shift in focus from reactively seeking out attention by making mention of someone with clout, to pro-actively sharing far higher integrity information has changed what I’m writing about and how I’m going about getting involved with the stories of others.
    I’d love more people creeping on me, just like I love finding RSS gold. Or twitter gold, or any other kind of great, interesting thing. However, there is a certain amount of finesse required to mask the creep in constructive conversation or as an addition to the flow, rather than an obstruction waiting to get noticed (by being run up against).

  13. I think it appeals to us on a primal level. We have that need to not only be noticed, but be liked. That desire is half of what drives us to use those services in the first place: submitting to the social proof after being asked for the hundredth time whether we have a Facebook, Myspace, whatever it is that year.
    Plus, we are all creeps. Everyone’s a little bit of a voyeur. Even as babies, we like to look at people and faces. We all love to people-watch, especially from the privacy of our own homes – where no one knows you’re looking at photos of that ex-girlfriend who got away. Our society has just evolved to the point where it’s socially acceptable to get your creep on.

  14. I wonder how we would all act (“creep”) online if we left a mark or footprint where we were online that the owners of the account could access, for example on Facebook?
    If our distant friend knew that we spent 1/2 hour looking at their photos a couple times in one week would we change our behavior so we look less creepy?
    A book that would summarize all that we do online socially is “A New Earth” – all about the ego… oh the ego….

  15. It’s posts like these that are precisely the reason that I continue to come back here Mitch. Thank you for continuing to provide an intriguing look into things digital and new media. The “need” portion of this post reminds me of the work of Sally Hogshead. I wonder what her comments might look like here?

  16. Hi there,
    I think that Maslows Heirarchy of needs is helpful in Business and understanding why humans do what the do. Once peope have met 5 basic needs popularity and spiritual fullfllment are all that is left.
    We are creeps, the current society breeds celibrity,Googling people,and a sort 50s style peering through Social Media windows, at Facebook acconts, Twitter feeds, Bios and FriendFeed. We are obsessed!!
    In Holland I noticed there were no curtains perhaps there are places where the publc private is seperate almost second nature as you say it should be in your comments, accepted and embraced. We are not there yet!!
    That is great point about Avatars we see the good looking avatar and we profile it like serial killer! That was quite a creepy thing to say. I think we are obessed with the other, none of us would like to visit a counsellor but rather creep over others. We obsess on the other and forget all the self. Social Media like all other media fullfills this need.

  17. Here’s another reason for posting personal information: to make yourself accountable.
    I posted something on Facebook about a personal decision I’ve made–more personal information than I’d normally post. But I’ve made a difficult decision and I don’t want to chicken out. If I let my friends know (and my FB friends are almost entirely friends or friends-of-friends in real life) then I make it difficult to back out. They’ll hold me to it, ask me how it’s going….
    I did the same thing about three years ago when I decided to lose weight. Told my co-workers, who saw me eat lunch every day and would catch me if I was snacking in the afternoon. It was very good for enforcing my discipline–and I lost 40 pounds!

  18. I don’t think it’s as bad as creeping like “serial killers” – we just like to creep on what other people are doing… nothing wrong with that when we’re all like that. It’s bad and dangerous when it becomes obsessive and destructive (like anything else).

  19. I know that Julien Smith uses a technique like this where he tracks specific goals online and when he misses them, he has to make a donation to a cause. He usually makes it a donation to an organization that he hates, so it’s even more painful.
    Beyond that, you can check out certain people on Twitter who post their goals and are constantly updating their feeds with how they’re doing – another great way to make yourself accountable.

  20. Hi Mitch. First off, one of my all time favorite songs. Makes for a lyrical blog post and I totally agree with the song you are singing. Modern man is blessed with the “rubber necking” gene, and we cannot help but slow down to gawk at the humanity (or car crash) around us. The Internet in general and social networks in particular give us the power to serve our genetics and peep, creep and lurk on steroids. We have always measured ourselves based on the realities of others and found emotions from angst to joy to pride to jealousy to inspiration from observing the lives of others from afar, or from across the street. Remember “keeping up with the Jonses…”? Once again this is a good example that “social media” is not a “thing” or an “industry” but rather it is a set of tools and technology that has the power to amplify that which we have always done or wanted to do… Yep, we are all creeps (not that there’s anything wrong with that….). 😉

  21. The curious part is this: why does it creep us all out when we all do it? It’s like the unspoken word. My guess is that even people of the cloth look to see what others are up to, etc… On top of that, if people don’t like being creeped on, it’s pretty easy to avoid and not publish anything. We are more complex than we think (or maybe more primal).

  22. I lean toward the more primal… I don’ think we give enough credit to our DNA, history as a creature, and good old “human nature.” 🙂

  23. It’s interesting to note that even still after our high school days we are all still looking for acceptance in the world. Sites like Facebook and Twitter simply reinforce this idea. We are all conditioning ourselves over and over again that in order to be viewed as popular – people must accept everything that you do. It is kinda weird once you think about it – great post, thanks for sharing!

  24. This is very interesting blog. It just made me wonder, if Facebook has over 500 million accounts, does it mean that these over 500 million members when they posted something on their wall are looking for attention? But this is so true on me, like when i post something could be a photo or just anything on my Facebook wall and 5 or 6 people like it and left a comment, well it kind of bring me a smile in my face. So yeah, maybe i’m a creep,lol…

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