Smail Talk

Written by Jeanne Martinet on . Posted in Uncategorized.

You show me yours, I”ll show you mine

By Jeanne Martinet

What did you get?

We were in the elevator, and it was not until my neighbor asked me this question that I realized I had left my universally-recognizable, red-and-white Netflix envelope on top of the pile when I had retrieved my mail.

Now, to be fair, my neighbor was really being more friendly than nosy. I mean, what else are you going to talk about in the elevator? This kind of inquiry is a very common way of connecting. The problem here was that, in this particular case, inside the aforementioned red-and-white envelope, was’s I”m embarrassed to confess’s Season 2, Disc 1 of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This is not just geeky sci-fi, it is past geeky sci-fi. In other words, this viewing choice was not something I necessarily wanted to broadcast.

I thought quickly, as the elevator began its ascent. I could, of course, lie. I could tell my neighbor I had ordered Citizen Kane, or Rashomon. That would emphasize my intellectual side, and who would it hurt? My neighbor would never know. It wasn”t like you could see through the envelope. I mean, I could have ordered either of those other movies. I certainly like those movies. But then I thought: Why should I care if my neighbor knows what I am watching? I should just tell the truth. I opened my mouth to say “Deep Space Nine, but something in me (I guess it was my innate feeling of privacy, coupled with 1990s TV shame) balked.

To tell you the truth, I can”t remember what I ordered, I heard myself saying, as we were approaching my floor. Of course this was completely believable, as well as a totally acceptable answer, as many people add things to their queues which they subsequently forget about.

But afterwards, I thought about the incident. Before Netflix, one”s viewing predilections were considered private. Although we would see each other”s magazines and packages in the elevator, and someone might say, “Ah, so you got a package from Barnes and Noble, eh? he would not ask you what was inside it. If you get a box from Zappos,  people may figure it”s shoes, but they don”t know what kind of shoes. Would your neighbors ask: “Hey, what kind of shoes did you buy? Only a friend or acquaintance asks that.

As Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like erode our notions of privacy, it becomes more natural to think of our whole lives as open books. If you are on Foursquare, you might announce where you are every hour of the day. This share everything sensibility is normal for many people, especially the younger generation. Connective functions on the Internet promote the sharing of all kinds of things online with people we can”t even see. But somehow, when it”s your neighbor, it”s different. It”s still seems pretty ballsy to ask, “Hey, what”s inside the wrapper?

However, Netflix is in a unique category. Netflix itself is so cool that we all really want to bond over it, and to share our experiences. As widespread as it is, it still has the feeling of a club; so that, when you comment on someone”s Netflix envelope, it”s a way of saying, Awesome, I love Netflix! I want to know what you watch, because I might like to watch it too.

The point is, while I am, as many of my readers will attest, the first to yell Boundaries! I think Netflix mailers and the snoopiness they inspire are a unifying force rather than an invasive one. They engender interesting discussion in the elevator, or on the street. In the past, you might have seen a stranger reading a book; and because you were able to see the title of the book, you would say, “I”ve read that. Or, Is that any good? Now, on the subway, everyone is reading things on their Kindles. There is no way to ascertain what they are reading. So Netflix, even with its blank covers, fills a void’s a way for us to know what is being consumed, in a cultural sense, by those around us.

I myself have decided I am more than happy to endure a little nosiness, if it means potentially meaningful face-to-face communication. The next time someone in the elevator asks me about my Netflix, I have made up my mind that, no matter what, I am going to tell the truth. I just hope and pray it”s not the day my Sex in the City 2 comes in the mail.

Jeanne Martinet, aka Miss Mingle, is the author of seven books on social interaction. Her latest book is a novel, Etiquette for the End of the World. You can contact her at

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