The oversharing society
People increasingly make private moments public, and social media are intruding on our lives as never before. We must develop new skills of restraint, empathy and resilience
Yes, she said, yes: the New Orleans Rose, Molly Molloy Gambel, accepts Kyle Catlett’s marriage proposal live on television during ‘The Rose of Tralee’ on Monday night. Photograph: Domnick Walsh/Eye Focus
Stop. It’s a word thought of less and less as we sit, phone in hand, status update worked out, tweet ready to go, photo about to be uploaded. The past week was a tale of two overshares: a Rose of Tralee escort who broadcast his live marriage proposal on live television; and a photograph of a sex act at a concert in Slane that ran away with itself online.
The proposal could have happened years ago and is almost normal now, considering that marriage proposals are a YouTube genre. The Slane incident satisfies a crude, modern impulse that combines a lack of decency with technology to spread something without thinking of the consequences.
Either way, the boundaries around what we view as private moments are shrinking rapidly. On the one hand this is being facilitated by people voluntarily sharing and publicising elements of their lives that used to be considered private. On the other hand it is the result of a creeping intrusion on people’s lives by their peers.
Every minute of every day 48 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube, Instagram users share 3,600 photos, 100,000 tweets are sent and 684,478 pieces of content are shared on Facebook. Running out of information to share with each other, we source more and more from our personal lives.
There is a paradox in the way we are sharing more, letting more and more people know about our lives in the offline world, while being less present face to face. Although discontent is growing online about what we are giving up in order to connect all the time, there is no mass movement to step back. Personal information feeds our online, networked lives. And we’re just getting started.
“Those little devices in our pockets are so powerful that they don’t only change what we do, they change who we are,” Sherry Turkle, the author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, said last year. “Some of the things we do with our devices we would have found odd or disturbing only a few years ago. But they’ve quickly come to seem familiar . . . People text or do email during corporate board meetings . . . Parents text and do email at breakfast . . . Children deny each other their full attention . . . We even text at funerals. We remove ourselves from our grief or revelry and go into our phones.”
Turkle’s warning sums up our dawning realisation that being immersed in technology that was meant to enrich our emotional and personal lives might not always be good. More people are suggesting that we should disconnect, at least some of the time, from social media; experts say there’s a balance to be struck.
Books, research papers and other studies question how social social media really is, how appropriate sharing is, from Blair Koenig’s blog – STFU, Parents, about about the modern parent who can’t stop archiving their child’s life on social media – to Ben Agger’s book Oversharing: Presentations of Self in the Internet Age.
Oversharing is becoming automatic. The impulse to put a photograph online immediately is rarely questioned.
There is a link between the changing nature of celebrity (and television) and how we share.
When given the opportunity to share our own lives, when encouraged to broadcast ourselves by YouTube, or to answer what we are doing and how we are feeling on a Facebook status update, when provided with the ability to share photographs of every meal, night out, holiday, sunset, walk to work, partner and pet, a networked global population has jumped at the chance.
The two pillars of modern celebrity of the past decade, Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, both became famous because of sex tapes, intrusions from which they both benefited commercially. The past decade of reality television has depicted the most intimate, mundane and gratuitous moments of people’s lives.
The dark side of sharing is intrusion. In the not-so-distant past tabloid newspapers and their lawyers would argue that a celebrity could hardly complain that they had been snapped having an affair if they had previously posed at home with their children for Hello! magazine.