Is oversharing online going out of fashion? One person on one newspaper's opinion page thinks so, which is what counts for a news hook when it comes to blogging these days, and I just so happen to disagree, so I came here to the internet to share my feelings on the matter.
As Alexandra Petri writes in the Washington Post piece The end of the age of overshare? "The long era of shouting noisily into the Internet may be at an end. So much for the era of overshare, the heyday of TMI."
Social networks like Google+, in which users can highly focus the groups with whom they'd like to share certain types information and not others, as well as similar recent updates to Facebook, she argues, mean that we are becoming more curatorial about the type of solipsistic info-dumps we're comfortable sleucing forth turd-like unto an uncaring audience of casual acquaintances and people we met at that party one time and never talked to again.
That may or may not be true, but mostly it's not, at least based on my super half-assed anecdotal research. Google+ currently has somewhere in the realm of 90 million users (showing a steady pattern of growth from 60 million in December, 40 million in October, and 25 million over the summer.) One estimate predicts that Google+ will have 400 million users by the end of the year. But as many people have pointed out, those sort of numbers only indicate how many people have signed up for the service, not how many are actively using it on a regular basis, a number that is a lot smaller. My research puts it at around 0 million people.
All of which is a roundabout way of getting at my point, which is that while the idea of Google+ may support this decline in oversharing to everyone all at once thesis in that it hypothetically makes it easier to focus who it is we want to share with, the fact that literally no one I know -- and I know a lot of people very eager to share pointless shit online -- is doing so through Google+ renders this pillar in the piece's argument a little hard for me to swallow.
Further along she leans on more directly-related numbers, writing "But the pendulum seems to be swinging towards reticence. A survey conducted by graduate students at New York University's Polytechnic Institute found that in June of 2011 53 percent of Facebook users opted to make their friend lists private, in contrast to only 17 percent who did so in May 2010."
Again, all this suggests is that maybe more people are merely restricting everyone in the world from looking at their pointless life detritus, it doesn't take into account the fact that many of our "friends lists" are comprised of thousands of people who we don't even know anyway. Just because they're called "friends" doesn't make it so. Perhaps then, we could say, "people are now more likely to only be oversharing with a huge group of barely-known internet relations." Is that even a trend worth writing about though?
The motivation, Petri suggests, is that we're all finally wising up to the fact that the things we share online are being used to market our own preferences back to us. I wrote about this myself over the summer in this piece in the WSJ Not Me Dot Com:
On the Internet, nothing you say or do ever really disappears. We leave behind a trail of digital breadcrumbs everywhere we go. The fact that your behavior on the Web is being monitored by companies who want to utilize that info for their own interests isn't a big surprise, but the sheer size of the data footprint each of us accumulates may give you pause. In the end, they're using it to tailor-make a just-for-you Web experience that you're supposed to like—whether you like it or not.Basically, durr, right?
Petri writes, "In 2011, 33 percent hid their high school name, age, relationship status, and hometowns from public view — a significant increase from the 12 percent who did so the preceding year." That's a good thing, I think. It behooves anyone who's at all concerned about protecting their privacy to be careful with the types of things they share online, but that has nothing to do with the idea of oversharing she sets up as the premise, the epitome of whom she describes as
The Theoretically Archetypal Facebook Guy Who Tells You What He Ate For Breakfast was, at best, an exaggeration, and at worst, a total fabrication. I have yet, in the near-decade that I’ve spent on Facebook, to hear what anyone has eaten for breakfast. Maybe my friends wake up too late, or eat particularly undramatic cereal, or something.How great it must be to live in a world where people like that, ok, like me, don't constantly bombard you with the photos of things they purchased, took a photo of, consumed, then took another photo of themselves consuming. That's practically my entire news feed on any given night. I'm at this show, share the special experience with me. I ate, like, a piece of cake at this one place that sells cake. I'm shopping for toilet plungers, or whatever. Here's a picture of my hotel I'm at right now! Here's the color of the dump I just took. Ok that last one was me on Twitter yesterday after a bout with green food coloring that wouldn't go away, but it wasn't exactly out of the norm to talk about.
I think that's the way it should be actually. That, in essence, is what Facebook and Twitter for that matter, are for: oversharing. The only thing worse than someone who shares too much on social networks is someone who doesn't share anything at all. Someone who has an inanimate object for their profile photo or doesn't use their real name. You're not internetting right.
Facebook is a content farm, and all that your average person really has to draw on for material is the content of their own lives. If we stop sharing that then we just become a collection of middlemen shuffling links to consumer goods around back and forth with each other. That should be more ominous and scary from the standpoint of someone paranoid about corporate-controlled internet brainwashing than the idea that companies know what type of soap we use. I like this song. I like this story I read on this magazine's site. I like this YouTube clip. That's nice, but, I don't like any of those things. I like human beings and their highly specific, shitty little boring lives. The characters in fiction who resonate most readily with us are the ones that seem almost too good to be true, right? The same goes for Facebook -- you couldn't dream up most of these self-absorbed bores if you tried. Truth is stranger than fiction. It's more boring too, but that's the what keeping it real is all about, boring the fuck out of each other, forever.