Is Online Oversharing *Really* That Bad?

There is a common lament about online oversharing and, quite frankly, I don’t completely understand the complaint. If a person was standing in front of you prattling on about their personal life, you’d be stuck there till you got an opportunity to politely excuse yourself, make an attempt to change the subject, or have someone come and rescue from their overly personal self involved monologue (unless you happen to be someone who doesn’t mind being overtly rude, in which case more power to you). If someone is oversharing online, you can either ignore, mute, or hide their post; if they are a repeat offender, you can hide them from your newsfeed or circle or even unfriend or block them. Your escape from their TMI posting is just a mouse click away without having to thoughtfully consider your drink glass or trying to make “HELP ME” eye contact with a friend across the room. One mouse click and the offending material is removed from sight, never to be seen again.

Perhaps the reason people get upset is that it acts as an intrusion to a social circle that we have created. In surrounding myself online with friends, acquaintances, and professional contacts, I’ve created a personalized experience that allows me to keep informed of the daily doings and goings-on. When someone breaks that by posting something that falls into the realm of Too Much Information, it creates a fracture in the social mosaic. For all the time that you have spent making connecting, there is no button or filter for that stray unwanted content.

Alternatively, it could be that there is a disconnect between what people would say in person versus what they say online. Without the face to face component, people feel more at ease sharing details of their life that they might not. The computer interface does not judge the information, it just passes the posting along. There is certainly excellent anecdotal evidence of “keyboard courage” that people get when making anonymous blog postings or comments on websites; the only difference in this case would be that it is not anonymous. Or, also a possibility, without the face to face component, people do not see the immediate reaction to their comments or posts. In a conversation, they might alter or stop what they are saying on the basis of the other person.

There are some additional explanations worth noting. There are people out there who just plain overshare. For them, they don’t have a personal or a private side; everything about them is out there for the world to see. Whether it is purposeful, obliviousness, or narcissism, they feel the need to not hold back. (Whether that is a good or bad thing is another debate.) Another possible explanation is to the ignorance of the social ramifications of their oversharing. Again, without the physically present listener, they might not understand how their words, link, and pictures affect other people. In an age of society which has text, chat, and other word based means of communication, there may be a lack of socializing.

Or socializing might just be evolving with the variety of communication mediums that are now offered in the technological society. The physical playgrounds of my youth are being slowly replaced by the digital connections that children and teens can now create. How will social norms look in twenty years as the digital generations come to adulthood and maturity?

Getting back to my point, I cannot help but think that some of the laments about online oversharing are the result of filter failure. It may be a failure of the original poster to consider what may or may not be appropriate, but it is also the failure of the reader to not exercise their powers to mute, hide, block, and otherwise unfriend people who cross their boundaries. The social media sites have given us the power to control what we see, who we follow, and what we read. It’s up to us to use those tools.

What do you think? How much liability does the original poster share with the reader? Can we achieve our comfort levels? Or is it a constant battle to find the right level of sharing?

19 thoughts on “Is Online Oversharing *Really* That Bad?

  1. First, I put myself through my MLIS by waiting tables full-time at a high-end chain. I learned to be “personal” without being truly personal. Talk about my relationship with my cat, not about my relationship with my mother. I don’t worry about my level of sharing, except when it comes to work frustrations – I’ve tweeted “in the heat of the moment” and gone back & deleted.

    Second, my thing about “online oversharing” is worrying about people leaving themselves open to criminal activity. I’m not being an alarmist, either. “I’m on vacay in FLA! WOOOHOOO!” turns into “Oh my god, my apartment was broken into,” on a regular basis.

    Finally, I’ve unfollowed/unfriended/filtered/etc. and I’m not afraid to do it again. I actually enjoy hearing the minute details (even food tweets) of people’s lives, so it takes a lot for me to cut someone out, but I’ll do it.

    Hope that’s a coherent answer. Time for my overshare: I’ve got to go back to grading. Last one for this class and then I submit grades and then I’m done grading until early September. Yay!

    • Yeah, I’m familiar with the robbery aspect you speak of. I will send Foursquare updates to Facebook since it is locked rather than Twitter unless I’m at a conference.

      I’ve unfollowed/unfriended/hidden/muted people because they got too noisy or just offered stuff I wasn’t interested in. It’s only when they comment on something that I tweet or update that I am reminded that they are on my lists.

      Yeah, I can totally understand “being personal without being personal”. I do that with my library patrons, with the exception of a few that I’ve gotten to know really well.

  2. My main concern when people over share is not necessarily that it annoys me – yeah, I can just skim over it, or block/hide/unfriend them if they offend/annoy me too much, but when I fear that they are doing damage to their real life personal life by their online behavior. Like the friend who posts all the time “My husband/boyfriend/wife/girlfriend is such a jerk/witch/whatever because they did this/didn’t do that” when said spouse type person also has an account and is friends with them. It’s like watching a car wreck.

    • Oh, I don’t count sharing criminal or other damaging as oversharing. I just think it’s stupid and worrisome all at the same time.

      If you’ve never seen the Failbook blog, I suggest you take a look.

  3. “The physical playgrounds of my youth are being slowly replaced by the digital connections that children and teens can now create.”

    I’d carry that further; I think the physical playgrounds of our youth much more accurately reflect the natural communication venues we, as a species, evolved using. The concept of personal privacy to the extent that we understand it today is completely alien to how we have interacted with each other for 200,000+ years, the majority of that time being spent living communally in small tribes. I’d agree that an element of the complaint “OMG TMI!!!” is lack of proper filtering; but I’d also argue that it reflects a warped concept of what social interaction *is* for humans. “TMI” is our default setting; it takes a lot of social inhibition and training as we grow up to learn the modern social limits.

    I’m not arguing for or against, really, I’m saying that I think the complaints about TMI are, generally speaking, reflections of a very modern and unnatural sensibility that is unenforceable. People *want* to share, it’s what we are hard wired to do. The choice is then to filter or not filter, since to hope that people stop over sharing is a fantasy!

  4. I usually don’t have a problem with people who overshare. I do like hearing about people’s lives and I think it makes it easier to connect with strangers. However, if it just seems like someone’s personality isn’t a good match with mine, and they overshare details of his/her life, then I’ll make the choice to delete/unfollow/hide the content.

  5. I usually don’t have trouble with oversharing, partly because those I have chosen to friend understand boundaries and the persistence of online presence, but also because I can simply gloss over it if I want. What chaps my hide is the thousands of game notifications I get. As quickly as I block a game or quiz, I get more. And the polls … well, I always report those as spam, regardless of the origin. FB used to allow you to direct who got notifications of things. Now everyone gets it unless we opt out. Frustrating. In person, I could just say, “Don’t ever tell me about the games you play,” and that would be that. Now I have to disable each game individually.

    • I think I’ve blocked just about every Facebook game with the exception of Scrabble. There might be another one, but it took a very long time to remove it from my news feed. Every now and again I’ll see a game announcement, to which I just block it. I should take a look at my list of blocks; it has to be HUGE by now.

  6. I always think people are hypersensitive with the information sharing thing. It just seems to me like “TMI” has become a clever little catchphrase that people use any time you share any personal information, no matter “clean” it is.

    When I was in college, I worked in a movie theater with some of the rudest, dirtiest, most profane guys you’d ever meet; and it was FUN. We were all “adults”, we watched our language when children were present, and we were respectful of our elders. But between us, there was just no such thing as “TMI”. Because we were adults, and we permitted ourselves to talk about “grown-up” things.

    So when someone says something to me that suggests that they’ve been sleeping with their wife/girlfriend, that’s not TMI to me. I expect someone to be sleeping with their own wife and/or girlfriend. That’s not too much information. But if they were to start giving me a play-by-play of last night in the bedroom, that would be a little too much. Not that I can’t handle hearing it, but it’s information that I don’t need to know. If someone were to give me a bite-by-bite description of the awesome beef wellington they had last night, that would be too much information, too. You had beef wrapped in flaky pastry, it was good, I get it.

    But I keep hearing people throw out “tmi” for any little bit of information that leads to an implication of someone’s personal life. I don’t get it. [shrugs]

    • Thanks for the comment. Now I’m wondering if our sensibilities are shifting for what we consider to be “TMI” now that we are in a greater sharing age (as in, I think there are more platforms for sharing, not that people are sharing more).

  7. I’m not as concerned with adults oversharing, IMO, they’re adults and should know what’s appropriate to share and what isn’t. Even if MY version of what’s appropriate varies from theirs. What worries me is the kids who overshare. I’m not just talking about the “OMG, kevin is sooo mean” posts, but the ones that could (and do) have potential consequences- like when they post on facebook “new phone comment with your number!” and his/her friends post their cell phone numbers. I realize you weren’t addressing that angle, but that’s the only overshare that gets me. Everything else is personal comfort level. I’m a private person, so I’m more likely to only post inconsequential things, but someone who isn’t will post more.

    One thing to wonder is where the happy medium comes in… If you share TOO much you run the risk of harming yourself professionally, but if you lock down everything completely you run the same risk (only with potential employers seeing you as a technophobe).

  8. Good post! We’re in a revolution, and it’s going to take time for the dust to settle. People are in a reactive mode (applies to both over posters and under-filterers) and while social offenses of any kind will never disappear, I’m hopeful that cultural norms will eventually provide some ballast.

  9. I think some people just talk too much (yes, I am probably one of those folks) and some people are annoying (I hope not!).

    When they are combined it becomes oversharing. When it is someone thoughtful, insightful and that we know well enough, the same conversation is deep and meaningful. I haven’t heard many real life complaints about this, but I have seen many articles in the media discussing similar topics. Therefore, I wonder, is this a bogus trend? The 24 hour news cycle means many random thoughts get turned into articles taking about a new trend….

    • That’s a good point about the 24 hour news cycle. It always amuses me how a channel like CNN can go from important world event to celebrity news. If that doesn’t tell people the value they put on information, then I don’t know what does.

  10. Sometimes I shake my head at what others share online, but mostly it makes me curious about this human need to be known by so many others, to have others share the mundane details of our lives or to be exposed to our unchallenged opinions. Have people always needed this and now they have an outlet for it? Or is it something that has evolved out of lives spent behind fences, in cars, and in front of computer screens? Almost anywhere you go where you might have the chance to connect with live people, those people are hiding in their cell phones and laptops. Maybe people are just afraid. The remoteness of online feels safer, and the need to connect is greater than ever.

    • Interesting response. Being of a certain generation (although I’m not making any age generalizations here), I have many, many friends, family members, and acquaintances who do not “get” online sharing, social media, etc. They are constantly saying things like, “those people need to get a real life.” When I tell them that I get most of my news via Twitter and Facebook, blogs, and Google reader, etc., they look at me as if I’ve gone mad.

      For me, well, I do have a life–a very nice one, thank you very much. However, as a (reluctant) cataloger, my entire day–all of it–is spent in front of a computer screen in a quiet environment. We are kind of in silos where I work. So for me, having an entire network of online “friends” to turn to for some welcome distraction/entertainment/enlightenment during the workday is a lifesaver. So I share because I know that I value much (not all by any means) of what is shared with me. I guess “oversharing” is in the eyes of the beholder.

  11. One might make a comparison between the ability to filter our own social networks (as well as the ability to find the right balance between sharing just enough information about yourself to your own satisfaction) and the ability to filter the deluge of information a student encounters when researching a topic. It is a skill learned out of necessity and experience, although some people just don’t take the time to(or don’t feel the need to) learn how to do it.

    And there is something to be said in that sharing some personal information can have a positive impact on the effectiveness of the non-personal information or networks we all try to share or finetune.

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s