Over the last decade America has become a nation of oversharing. Our new social media-driven culture has set us off, sharing pictures of our kids, our cats, our vacations––even our favorite bacon burgers. Platforms like Facebook, Flickr, Instagram and Twitter have enticed narcissistic public officials to unleash their inner perv sending out photos of their nether regions and other inappropriate material. But the stories that make the headlines are not the news here. There is a global shift in behavior and decorum. While the Internet continues to push the boundaries of privacy, we continue to let it.
A recent Pew study reveals that 54% of web users say they have posted original photos or videos online. 47% say they pass these photos and videos onto others. The survey interviewed 1,000 adults 18+ in this October phone study.
“Pictures document life from a special angle, whether they relate to small moments, personal milestones, or larger news and events,” explains Maeve Duggan, author of a report on the Pew report. “Mobile connectivity has brought these visuals into countless lives in real-time. This all adds up to a new kind of collective digital scrapbook with fresh forms of storytelling and social bonding.”
Duggan spins this whole thing happy. But sociologists are concerned both with what intimate pictures we send and the intimate facts we reveal online.
“There are a lot of things people will say under the guise of electronic media that they wouldn’t say in person,” argues Ben Agger, a professor of sociology and humanities at UT Arlington. “Self-revelation becomes routine when you can’t see someone’s eyes. No one blushes or holds back.”
This shift began when locked away diaries and journals morphed into online blogs. Now with the advent of mobile devices people are using social media more than ever to share thoughts, rants and personal photos. The marketing world is already tapping into this growing willingness to abandon privacy. Our Facebook pages alert us to what our friends are listening to on Spotify, what movies they watch on Netflix and what books they buy on Amazon.
The question is this: is it healthy for a society to be this weirdly open?
Agger calls oversharing a product of the search for connection. These electronic connections are often “flimsy and largely unfulfilling” and rarely lead to real relationships, or what he calls community.
Maybe its time we put away our smartphones and actually talk to the person that is sitting across the table from us. After all, the best part of sharing is looking into someone’s eyes.