I’ve done several articles already on social media and its usage rules, written or unwritten, for individuals and companies.
In this opinion column for 2nd Opinion‘s January-February 2015 issue, I take aim at the worst offenders, and argue for much-needed self-editing and restraint.
Take it from this former open book.
Enough About Me… And You
Because it isn’t always good to share
by KC Calpo
In every family reunion, there will always be what I call the “cigarette conference”. All the so-called legal smokers, from tanders to hipsters, will gather somewhere outside the reunion venue, light up a few cancer sticks and sip from light beers, and have a few loud laughs.
I like joining these little impromptu cigarette conferences, and not just for the company I rarely keep. It’s where everyone gets to say things we wouldn’t dare to in front of our parents and grandparents. And as much as I hate to admit it, it’s where we can be our snarkiest, and hear the best, unedited gossip about absent relatives.
This year, one of the many discussion topics focused on blood relations who regularly post sweaty mid-workout selfies, complex and highly charged rants about life in general, and super-private information that should never ever show up on a digital screen. The recurring complaint: Why do people post these things online?
This problem isn’t new. And I say, with a bit of regret, that I was a former repeat offender. I grew up during Web 1.0, the heyday of free services like Geocities, Angelfire, Blogger in its pre-Google days, Xanga, and LiveJournal. (Screw your Facebook pages and Instagram hashtags; we had webrings!) We turned significant portions of our lives into open books, and thrived in the ensuing flood of comments. College woes, family problems, stupid and meaningless questionnaires, messy relationship breakups and the accompanying self-pity, boozy party nights, random brain farts — all those were documented.
I had only one reason for doing this: to connect. I wasn’t picky; I wanted to converse with everyone. I reconnected with friends I haven’t seen in years, kept up conversations with friends I’d see every weekend, and “met” people I otherwise wouldn’t even get to talk to. Like Cathy, a kind 20-something librarian and US Army wife in Colorado. She sent me extra Neil Gaiman books from her library’s stock room, and talked about her frustrations with her husband’s deployment in the Iraq War. There’s also Jo, who’s now a professional dancer and theater actress in NYC, as well as a distant relative in Virginia.
But then there’s also the so-called dark side. Gossipy and clannish relatives made me a target, and classmates confronted me because they didn’t like or agree with what I wrote. And even then, oversharing was rampant — successive and excessive selfies before they were called selfies, nasty post-coitus photos, and other things people should (but rarely) keep behind closed doors and zipped-up pants. Gotta love teh Internetz.
Eventually, I stopped blogging altogether and deleted the accounts I still remembered my password to. I just didn’t have the time and energy anymore, and the monetization of blogging turned me off. Looking back, I can’t quite pinpoint why I laid out years of my life for public consumption. It could be boredom, the usual teenage angst, or just the desire to explore a different personal outlet. But I can say this: it was fun, for the most part.
Now, in 2015, social media and microblogging are still fun things to do, and the purposes remain the same. The desire to connect and belong is still there. We continue posting status updates, tweets, heavily filtered photos, and video clips to find common threads, to laugh, to be snarky and sarcastic in unison. We still seek validation from our peers, and think our activities are highly important and potentially life-changing.
But the online sharing game has changed in other ways, too. Some do it to make money and be famous. Some, for nobler efforts — support charities and relief efforts, call attention to criminal behavior, or launch culture-changing initiatives. The latter examples certainly put us pro bono narcissists from the early ’00s to shame.
There’s also the peculiar tug-of-war between self-editing and oversharing. We all know people who analyze and overanalyze each post before posting, thanks to potential repercussions at work or school, or in relation to kids’ privacy or government monitoring. Self-editing can also come into play in popularity contests and brand-building (ugh). Some choose to keep accounts private — it’s that awkward middle ground between mouthing off in public and keeping it down-low.
On the other end are the chronic oversharers. We still see a daily barrage of identical selfies, talk and talk shit about anything we can think of, read about bowel movements and sex fetishes and kinks, and can’t unsee those horrid after-sex photos. Many are utterly failing at self-regulation; in this corner, all bets (and filters) are off.
According to a longtime friend, the main difference between being online then and now is that now, it’s in-your-face, 24/7. And we can’t opt out completely because social media’s our only remaining connection to some people. The next best thing is to take advantage of Facebook and Twitter’s Unfollow and Mute features, and use content filters. In the worst cases, you’ve no option but to Unfriend and/or Block. That way, you get the barrage of updates only if/when you choose to.
I fully support freedom of speech, and I love that the Internet has given everyone a voice that may not be heard in other circumstances. What I’m saying is that personally, it’s getting harder to communicate when everyone’s talking at the same time, and that already blurry line between proper and improper gets blurred even more.
So why do we post appropriate and inappropriate things online? It’s because we can, we have the right to do so, and we’re free to exercise that right. But remember as well that the world isn’t your stage. Not everything is meant to be shared and posted, not everyone will get the meaning and context, and not all Friends are friends. So go ahead, turn those filters on, actual and internal. We don’t have to see or be in every conversation. In the end, the less stress we deal with, the better we’ll all feel. ⦾