Oversharing In The Digital Age

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The first BlogBlog of the 2017 academic year comes from Heather Thompson, a University of Delaware Junior double-majoring in Media Communication & Psychology with a Spanish Minor. This blog serves as a way for students in my classes at U to creatively voice their opinions as they tackle the tough issues we discuss. Heather is currently enrolled in “Digital Technology and Politics,” and in this blog, addresses the bane that is the “over-sharer.”

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The restaurant phone rang and, as hostess, I answered it as I always do, “Hi, thank you for calling Sunset Grille. How can I help you?” “Hi, I actually have to call and cancel my reservation…I just found out my husband is cheating on me.”

This is an example of what we might call an “over-sharers.” We have all encountered over-sharers in some place or another. Whether it’s unsuspectingly answering the phone at work or waiting in a line at the grocery store, we all know those people who tell you just a little too much information.

Over-sharers are the socially overbearing and discomfort-inducing sect of the population. They have a level of authenticity and openness that some people strive for in long-term relationships. However, we often shy away from them, because it’s just too much information for the level of intimacy we have with them. As uncomfortable as my phone conversation was, that woman’s willingness to disclose personal information to someone who didn’t necessarily deserve to hear it is not unlike the way we conduct ourselves on social media.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat breed over-sharers. Within seconds, we can share where we ate lunch, what we ate for lunch and with whom, to people who don’t necessarily deserve to have—or are even interested in—this information. Our narrative can be spread from one place to all the people we want to reach almost instantly. A Facebook status about a college acceptance could open up a conversation filled with congratulations and advice—all with the press of a button. When you share personal information with the public, it is instantly susceptible to discussion, critique and comment, which in turn completely expands our information base.

Paul Wicks, a neuropsychologist who spoke with the New York Times, actually encourages his patients to share their medical diagnoses online. He argued that by sharing your medical diagnoses with the public, you not only gain needed support, but you also get access to knowledge from people who have had similar diagnoses or experiences. That collective of shared stories, advice, and genuine experience that can be earned by making the personal, public, couldn’t really be obtained at that rate in any other way. But does this public sharing of private information come at a cost?

The people who revel in the magic of technology would say, “So what? I don’t see the problem. We can share information with a bunch of people within seconds.” And maybe there is none. In some ways, the amount of personal accounts we are exposed to and the level of closeness we feel by sharing this information has undeniable benefits.

On my own Facebook alone, I have 1,126 friends. That’s 1,126 people that I have collected over the years since getting my Facebook in 8th grade, many of whom I do not remember meeting, haven’t spoken to since, or barely knew when I added them in the first place.

According to the Pew Research Center, as of February 2017 there were 1.23 billion people on Facebook. Of those 1.23 billion, 15% of them have over 500 friends. That is 184,500,000 people who are broadcasting private events such as marriage proposals, childbirths, college acceptances, graduations, photos and locations to 500+ people they may not know well, within seconds.

But what happens when we share information that isn’t as warm and fuzzy, such as our political stance? Since the 2016 election, you can’t go a day on Facebook without seeing the newest Trump headline and someone’s opinion on it, or someone posting a status bashing this, that, and the next thing. We are so eager to “like” things we want to hear about, but when we come across an article shared by a Facebook friend with opposing views we say to ourselves, “Yeah, well who asked you anyway?” Well the answer is: you did.

We often don’t think twice about sharing a family photo to our friends on Facebook or seeing our roommate’s cousin’s new kitten on our news feed. But when it comes to sharing personal political views, we want to hear and see less from the people who disagree with us and interact more with the people who support us. As I read in my class this semester, the Internet and online forums for political discussion are making “the like-minded become more similar.” (Brundidge & Rice, 2009). The information we share on social media would never be information we share bumping into our far-removed Facebook friend on the street, so why do we feel comfortable exposing ourselves with a push of button to all of them at once?

The conversations we start and the amount of information we are exposed to are equally social media’s greatest strength and biggest downfall. By using this resource, we have the privilege to become a part of a collective, but we tend to use it only as it suits us. Maybe if we maintained the same level of acceptance and openness when we share our medical diagnoses as we do when we disagree on politics, we could tap into the expanded level of knowledge and learn something from each other.

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This blog was written for a class taught by Dr. Lindsay Hoffman by Heather Thompson, University of Delaware, 2017. Her peers voted her blog as their favorite. I will continue publishing student blogs as well as my own perspectives here at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/lindsayh-183.

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