December 7, 2012 by The Editor
We are exceedingly lucky in the 21st century to have something like Facebook. It has become an antidote to the downside of widespread mobility and the need for people to live far from friends and family. In my case, I use it to keep in touch with many people, and it has in no small measure brought me into closer contact with my family after years of more limited contact.
I have also reconnected with old friends whose lives have taken shape in beautiful and unexpected ways. It can be really fun to re-encounter someone after 20 years to see how they’ve gotten on. In no small sense, there is a process of reacquainting that goes on. There is a lot of catching-up to be done.
Of course, sometimes, you don’t necessarily like what you see. This is part of facing the reality that lives might diverge, friendships don’t continue, for good reasons. Rarely is there cause to cut someone out completely (un-friend?), but surely you’ve encountered people whose lives have gone off the deep end and you really don’t want to know why.
I have also made steps into making new friends. This is an area which I have yet to test in person, but there have been several times when someone on a public forum or who has a mutual friend has added me to their list and we’ve ended up having really good exchanges. Facebook forums can be a venue, like other earlier message boards such as BBS and Craig’s List, where like-minded people can share ideas and come together to talk about their interests and maybe become friends.
Other times, not so much. I’ve had people “friend” me who were only interested in sending me game requests. Or who quickly showed themselves to be unpleasant people with an argumentative streak. There’s no reason to keep them around, but it shows the limitations of the media.
When I wrote recently about over-sharing and over-interpreting via photography my concern was twofold. On one side, it is that we have long passed the point of oversaturation. It is as if our interaction with the world through social media is now just a continuous scroll of images, with little regard for the assimilation, appreciation, or value of the experience of seeing them.
On the other side, I argue, there is the rush to remember. It is as if there is no time for memories to form anymore. I don’t think it is necessarily a generational problem. It is the era we live in and if the behavior manifests itself more among the young, that may be accounted for simply because the young are more likely to quickly take up new trends and technology. Over-sharing cuts across the generations.
In his excellent essay “Thanks for Not Sharing” columnist Roger Cohen has written about a third aspect of over-sharing: making public the extremely personal and intimate details of your life, from doctor’s office visits to what’s on your plate to how you feel about your lover. He ascribes it in part to status anxiety. I agree, and know from my experience with this blog, that counter clicks can be quickly addictive.
But status anxiety is only part of the story. Not everyone has an extreme need to be popular or to measure their success in notches of one sort or another. What has happened is a widespread failure to see the benefits of taking the higher road, in many areas of society. And in taking the low road, many people have simply abandoned their social filters which in turn help people relay certain types of information to the appropriate groups.
How have we gotten to this point? When does sharing become another word for bragging? Why has the idea of TMI (too much information) largely disappeared? Are we ashamed at being queasy at the human condition so we don’t call it out? Do our own inclinations undercut our right to criticize others? Is there a fear of being labeled a prude or old-fashioned or a scold?
Roger Cohen’s article raises the issue in a way that is very constructive. Discretion is your friend. A little mystery might make you more interesting. My recommendation is this: stop thinking about social media as a virtual environment. Remember that there are human beings beyond the screen. Think about how you want yourself to be seen in the world, not just now but years from now because it’s going to be ‘out there’ for a long time. Pause before hitting the ‘share’ button. My hunch is we’ll all be happier with less information and more sensitivity to other people’s need to know.