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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Oversharing Online: When to Draw the Line

Posted By on Thu, Apr 12, 2012 at 8:30 AM


This isn't a personal problem per se, but I want to ask about online oversharing. The conversation for me has shifted from oversharing to people who constantly complain about oversharing. Like passive-aggressive status updates about "Do I need to see every photo you've posted/read every article you've read," and so on. It seems impossible to me to curb people's tendencies completely, so in a universe that encourages oversharing, how do you know when enough is enough?

When Wilford Brimley told me to stop tweeting him poetry. That was a "sign," if you will. "For neither the angels in heaven above / nor the demons down under the sea / could ever dissever / my soul from the soul / of the beautiful Wilford Brimley."

Just kidding! (He never told me to stop.)

You know though, I don't really get the oversharing lament. Or rather, I do get it, but it doesn't bother me.

Seeing a tweet about someone's totally excellent bowel movement appears and disappears too quickly in my life to get upset about it. Would I rather have not seen it? Sure, but it's also not something that monopolizes my thoughts. I could be biased. As someone who writes about how to get laid using Twitter, I definitely get my fair share of TMI remonstrations online (that means "too much information," Dad).

Unfortunately, there's no magic button or filter available that can get rid of every piece of unwanted information in our various social circles. Well, I take that back. There are some filters. When the inevitable "8 Innovative Ways to Save Money on Your Wedding" e-mail arrives in my in-box each week, I have the option of deleting it if I don't want to read it (though I usually do because innovative wedding planning is really high on my list of life ambitions). 

On Facebook, you can hide people from your news feed and remove game requests (for a primer on ridding your life of FarmVille, go here). There are some programs that allow you to "mute" people on Twitter. And so on. But there's no way to control the barrage of information that flits past us every hour of every day that we are online. Facebook is making this worse with all the real-time ticker shizz that shows you when a friend likes a post, comments on something, joins an event, reads an article -- whether he or she wants you to know that or not. Add the integration with Spotify and now Instagram, and your life has become one giant blob of TMI.

I mean, Christ. I don't even want to know that I listen to that much Katy Perry. I can't imagine other people would. In this way, we can't be totally blamed for contributing to the oversharing phenomenon. The mediums can be blamed as well. In person we have visual cues -- such as  the look of abject horror on the face of another person as you describe your latest bout with goiters. We don't have those filters when we're home alone, examining our disgusting bodies and hitting the "post" button with abandon. Our computers don't judge us. They just passively send our information out into the world, like bored postal carriers.

There's no overarching rule about how much sharing is too much. Some people genuinely enjoy reading about the minutiae of friends' day-to-day lives. You ate a muffin today? LIKE. You listened to 12 Journey songs? Don't stop believin', sister! Conversely, some people don't distinguish between the public and private spheres; they are just as open in person as they are online. Or maybe they have to be open. Maybe their business is plumbing, and an amusing shit anecdote will help them establish brand loyalty with customers or something. You never know.

In the end, people are going to overshare. There's no way to neutralize everyone's comfort levels in online forms of communication. Whether this is a product of people not having good judgment or the offended party not having good filters in place remains to be seen. But one thing is certain. This muffin is really good, y'all.

Social-media mistress Anna Pulley likes to give advice about how to play well with others on the internets. If you have a question about etiquette involving technology, shoot her a question at 

Follow us on Twitter: @annapulley and @ExhibitionistSF or Facebook

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