Beware, digital wallflowers! A new iPhone app called Sonar intends to bridge that elusive last mile between harmless Facebook oversharing and helping pushy real-world strangers annoy you in more personalized, relevant ways. Essentially, Sonar compiles all the information you're already publishing about yourself on the Web into a single streamlined interface. Enter your favorite bar, check in on Foursquare, and anyone using Sonar can view an intimate, automated profile of you that includes information gleaned from everything you've ever posted to Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else you scatter digital clues about your dessert preferences and thoughts on Libya. “We share so much of ourselves online right now,” exclaimed one of Sonar's founders at a recent tech conference. “Why not use that information to connect with the person sitting next to us?”
That Sonar is marketing itself as a “form of visual, local self-expression that you can use to share what you're proud of and what you're looking for” in various social settings, and not as a tool only a stalker or stealth marketer could love, is no doubt one reason why America's card-carrying nudists are having such a tough time replenishing their ranks these days. The American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, and if you've ever visited a nudist resort, you know that half the patrons were likely there at AANR's start. Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that the nudist resort industry is “desperate for young nudists … to augment its clientele of graying baby boomers.”
“The whole lifestyle will just disappear unless we attract a younger crowd,” the head of the Naturist Society fretted to the Journal. In reality, nudism — or more specifically, the ideals that nudists have traditionally embodied — is now so deeply embedded in our culture that bare shanks and haunches, proudly stripped of all pretenses and decorum save a thin layer of SPF 20 sunscreen, now seem like an afterthought.
As defined by groups like the AANR and the Naturist Society, nudism is a pathway to body acceptance and emotional candor: You wear your heart on your genitals, without shame, without sexual agendas, without the mediating influence of relaxed-fit chinos and other dehumanizing social conventions. It's an act of vulnerability and assertion, a demand to be accepted on one's own terms, as one is, self-disclosure in all its raw, hairy, humble and narcissistic glory. “I stood there in front of Mother Nature and all those people and I said, ‘This is me! This is who I am!'” a septuagenarian nudist resort owner reminisced to the Journal about his formative clothing-free experience at Woodstock in 1969.
For the last 40 years, that has pretty much been America's collective refrain. “This is me! This is who I am!” On the radio, Howard Stern pioneered a new kind of emotional nudism. Every day, for hours at a time, he exposed his unvarnished, lopsided humanity — his least socially acceptable obsessions, his most ungainly phobias — and while his raw psyche may have at first seemed as shocking as a beach filled with naked people in 1931, the persistent, matter-of-fact way he presented it for all to see eventually normalized it, made it seem mundane, even. On TV, early reality shows like “COPS” and “The Real World” strove for a similar immediacy — reality TV was TV stripped of scripts, TV stripped of professional actors, TV nude, essentially.
In the publishing world, writers abandoned the veils of fiction for the wrinkled, sunburned authenticity of the memoir; then a college kid named Marc Andreessen invented the web browser, a way to tour the greatest nude resort known to man, the World Wide Web. The early years of the Internet were a peep show set in a hall of mirrors, where candor, revelation and emotional intimacy cavorted all night long with invention, distortion, deceit — maybe your warts and wrinkles were real, or maybe you were just making them up. Over time, however, textual exposition gave way to video documentation, and multiple anonymous screennames were superseded by the fixed identity Facebook prefers. With every new Google feature, with each Twitter upgrade, we live our lives a little more publicly, a little more transparently, a little less self-conscious of the things that used to shame us. Shedding every stitch of clothing for an impromptu nude volleyball match in, say, the middle of Times Square, would actually seem a little reactionary, a little guarded. We'd have no place to store our smartphones, and thus no way to let Sonar know that we'd arrived.