Although sites like Facebook and Twitter serve as platforms for personal expression, columnists Kathryn López and Maria Zankey say some users of the social networking sites take it too far.
“Still feeling rather icky. My bowels are being evacuated quicker than a plane sinking in the Hudson.”
We wish we could say we read this quote in a nurse practitioner’s notebook, but we can’t – it’s a Facebook status update.
It should be safe to say when you’re publishing “what’s on your mind” and it shifts to “what’s running through your intestines,” you’re revealing a little too much.
But whether you’re updating about something as medically personal as your diarrhea or something as emotionally invasive as your recent breakup, the theme of oversharing has become common within a vast majority of Facebook statuses, tweets, text messages and other forms of mass and personal communication.
Oversharing has always existed, but the advent of social networking sites among millennials has extended beyond the levels of previous generations. Webster’s New World Dictionary even chose the term as its Word of the Year in 2008, defining overshare as a verb meaning “to divulge excessive personal information, as in a blog or broadcast interview, prompting reactions ranging from alarmed discomfort to approval.”
“We abuse, and have been abusing, every technology we have to use to socialize, from mail and telephones to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook,” said Temple psychology professor Dr. Donald Hantula, who specializes in behavior analysis and consumer choice on the Internet and technology applications. “It’s a matter of sharing with more people, especially within the 15- to 25-year-old age bracket, when the whole world’s going chaotic on you.
“Aristotle referred to humanity as the social animal,” Hantula added.
It’s the reason you passed notes during class in middle school and the reason you spark conversations with the lady in front of you in the grocery store checkout line. People are innately compelled to form connections with other human beings.
So today, they take to social networking sites like Twitter and form relationships in the form of 140 characters.
One Twitter user writes, “leaving the page of the book carelessly open, something unsaid, the phone off the hook and the love, whatever it was, an infection.”
This update may seem like a few beautifully written lines to be shared, but a quick Google search reveals they are from an Anne Sexton poem about suicide called “Wanting to Die.”
Such cries for help, whether subtle or blaring, often take the form of status updates. While people have always expressed their needs for comfort and attention, they have only recently gained the ability to megaphone them to an audience that, more often than not, extends far beyond their trust circles.
But even seemingly harmless posts about giving your cat a bath or pulling an all-nighter in the TECH Center studying for your math final can conjure negative reactions.
“Somewhere between the time Facebook became a club even Great-Aunt Suzy wanted membership in and Twitter went pandemic, we began to exalt the mundane and worship the inane,” writes Janelle Randazza in her book, Go Tweet Yourself: 365 Reasons Why Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and Other Social Networking Sites Suck.
But can you bond with people over the Internet? Randazza says you can’t.
“The more we talk, the less we listen, and the more Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and LinkedIn connections we acquire, the greater chance that any sliver of meaningful contact we could forge will get lost in the din of nudges, pokes, prods and virtual two-steps,” she adds.
Maybe we don’t need to know what you ate for lunch or what time you woke up this morning, and you should probably keep updates on your bowel movement to yourself. But a little openness doesn’t hurt.
When it all boils down, we might be absorbed with our own thoughts, problems and goings on, but we’re still commenting on, retweeting and “liking” each others’, as well.
Kathryn López and Maria Zankey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This edition of For Tech’s Sake is Part 2 in a five-column series exploring the link between the attitudes of the Millennial Generation and technology.