Though he never names it, what Levy is really talking about here is shame. And the shame comes from something deeper than just self-exposure, though that's certainly part of it. There's an arrogance to sharing the details of one's life in public with strangers - it's the arrogance of power, the assumption that such details somehow deserve to be broadly aired. And as for the people, those strangers, on the receiving end of the disclosures, they suffer, through their desire to hear the details, to hungrily listen in, a kind of debasement. At the risk of going too far, I'd argue that there's a certain sadomasochistic quality to the exchange (it's a variation on the exchange that takes place between celebrity and fan). And I'm pretty sure that Levy's remorse comes from his realization, conscious or not, that he is, in a very subtle but nonetheless real way, displaying an undeserved and unappetizing arrogance while also contributing to the debasement of others.
I'm not sure that I buy the 'arrogance' argument. In a comment on Carr's blog post, Tom Slee reiterates the arrogance theme, comparing book writing to blog posting as follows:
With a book, you have to get a stamp of approval before inflicting your thoughts on readers (in the form of a publishing contract), so there is something un-egotistical about a book: "I'm not the one claiming that my scribblings are worth reading, someone else thinks they are too". But with a blog, or other intermediary-free publishing mechanism, there is something about the effort -- "Here Are My Thoughts, Listen To Them!" -- that is presumptuous, almost distasteful.
Here's a different take on it. If I write a book I'm saying, "Here are my thoughts, I (and at least one other person?) think they are worth paying for". If I write a blog post I'm saying, "Here are my thoughts, read them if you want to". Which is more arrogant?
I don't feel particularly arrogant about writing here for example - it's a take it or leave it thing for the reader as far as I'm concerned. I sometimes feel bemused that people read it (you are reading it aren't you? :-)) but that's a different matter. That's not to say that I don't feel some level of shame in exposing my digital identity so openly. I do. Actually, I'm not sure that shame is quite the right word here but it is used above and I'm willing to go with it for the sake of this post. I've recently started, as a personal activity, blogging a photo every day over on Blipfoto and this does, I must admit, cause me to think about what I am doing with my digital identity much more acutely than I have before.
The problem, for me, lies in the increasingly fuzzy divide between professional and personal, a semi-controlled growth in the leakage of information between the two, and a partial transference of practice from my professional to my personal life. It is no accident that both Twitter and Facebook have a tendency to blur the interface between these two worlds quite significantly and, as a result, are often cited as a source of potential discomfort around digital identity.
For me, there are two aspects to that discomfort I think. Firstly, a slight tendency on my part to write things online (of the thoughts and feelings variety) that I might struggle to express verbally to the people around me, an aspect of my character that some people (who I would consider to be close to me) find bemusing. For the record, I find it slightly bemusing myself. Secondly, an understanding that I am contributing in various ways to the digital identity of my children (and others around me), coupled with an incomplete understanding of quite what impact I am having. I know that, as parents, we all contribute to the identity of our children, not only genetically but also in our relationship to them and the mediation of their relationships to other people - but somehow the addition of a digital aspect to that equation seems to make the issues more up-front and permanent. So, yes, shame might not be the right word for it, but there is some level of discomfort around my digital identity and it's impact on my real-life relationships.
The slight irony is that this blog post is probably now part of that discomfort!