Oversharing and the Internet

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(Anna Seward)—Social media wants us to share everything. Every notable event, every relationship, every emotion. Facebook asks me, “What’s happening, Anna?” Twitter wants me to “compose.” Tumblr will take anything: text, photo, quote, link, chat, audio, video. What keeps us in check isn’t the technology, it’s the social rules we’ve developed to cope with this stream of questions. There’s some new unconscious part of my brain that checks me by asking if anyone else will really care about a status I post. I recently “unfriended” someone I met abroad who posted a status about the minutiae of every single day. I really didn’t need to know what his dining hall back in the states was serving, so he had to go. However, there’s the other category of oversharers that’s all too easy to keep on. The people who write status-rants to an anonymous person that end with “you know who you are,” or post emo song lyrics and wait for the reassuring comments to flood in. These, I’ll admit, I keep on my newsfeed for the entertainment factor. But I don’t want to be them, which, apparently, is harder than it seems.

See, in person, I’m kind of an oversharer. If I know you moderately well, I’ll probably tell you almost anything you want to know about my personal life. For a while, this was how I was on the internet, too. In the days of MySpace and LiveJournal everything in my head went up online. I had awkward moments with friends in middle school because we hadn’t read each other’s posts about how pissed off we were at each other yet (not exaggerating, sad to say). Luckily I, and the internet, have gotten much better over the years. Privacy is easier to come by with easy “locking” features.  And let’s be real, I’m not so concerned about what I write on my Twitter if only 20 people I know can see it. (Even if this did happen last semester. Lemme say here, Muck-Rake, your ratio according to me has been a lot better lately.)

Of course, these privacy settings aren’t perfectly private. I don’t think I will ever understand what exactly the Facebook privacy settings are. It seems every other week an article comes out bashing them only to be followed with a more moderate blog pointing out ways to avoid changes in Facebook’s set-up. It’s impossible to keep up, which may be the point. Has anyone else seen the very hokey but mildly troubling ad campaign targeting Gmail?

Nice try, Outlook, but I’ve been loyal to Gmail since I got my invite from my friend’s father who worked in the technology industry in sixth grade. (I know, I know, I was an outrageously cool middle-schooler.) The point, though, is that now privacy is a marketing tool and not a necessity.  It’s something we’ve started to expect from the internet and are expected to feel thwarted when that trust is betrayed.

But even without privacy settings on more official blogs and websites, there’s still a question about what’s okay to post; what’s okay to attach your name to. I hate to say it, but this usually applies to older generations. Applying for internships and jobs last spring, my father got worried when he saw some old articles I had posted to Amherst’s HerCampus, particularly one about “turning your walk of shame into a stride of pride.” I stood by it (and still do even if the writing’s not amazing) because I was (and am) tired of the double standard that seems especially noticeable on college campuses. Not only are men with multiple partners “studs” or “players,” it’s also totally acceptable for them to talk about sex but if women do we’re somehow being uncouth. If the utter failure of abstinence-only education taught us anything, silence on sexual issues doesn’t make them go away. So, yeah. I wrote online about sex a couple times. Deal with it.

It probably helps that I have the added benefit of some cover when it comes to my name and the internet. Go ahead, Google it. Yes, that is me. Anna Seward, the English 18th-century poet. Obviously I’m not completely invisible online, but I feel slightly safer knowing that until I have a nickname as popular as “the Swan of Lichfield,” I’m probably okay.

I guess what I’m saying in this post is that I can’t know for sure if our current set of internet privacy rules are “okay.” What’s too open on the internet? And is that somehow dependent on how long these social media platforms last? Google+ will eventually take over, right? It’s hard to tell, and I think it will continue to be so for many years to come. I think we’ll probably have to wait until we’re sixty to wonder either, “What was I thinking saying those things on the internet?” or, “Why did everyone care?” I’m inclined to say the latter, but like I said: I’m an oversharer.