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?