Do people share too much on Facebook and Twitter?
Martin van Beynen
OPINION: We live in liberal times when the old taboos about bodily functions, intimate relationship details and nasty personal proclivities have broken down.
Once, if they were discussed at all, these private matters were confined to soft murmurs in bar-room corners, the offices of professional listeners and drunken soliloquies. Now they are the stuff of conversation at the morning-tea table.
This tendency, almost a compulsion, to open up to everyone and to tell everybody our feelings, our histories, our secrets and our cold and brutal passions, as though we are all celebrities, writers, songsters, poets and X-Factor contestants, is not all bad, but as with most things that were once suppressed and contained, the tendency has now gone too far the other way.
Unfortunately, this unburdening trend has coincided and is perhaps driven by another emerging pattern which has acted like a turbocharger on the aforementioned.
I refer, of course, to the fact that the last 15 years have seen the explosion of vehicles by which virtually anyone can cheaply express themselves to a wide audience. We have never had more platforms from which we can broadcast our innermost thoughts, banal observations and inconsequential happenings.
You can blog your opinions, your every creative effort or blooper can be aired on YouTube, on reality TV you can cry as much as you want to, on Facebook you can befriend the world and, with Twitter, you can let everyone know almost contemporaneously of every step in your, let's face it, pretty mundane life.
I know I am approaching old fogeyism territory, but I'm not asking any credit for that. The point is that when you harness one trend to the other - unrestrained personal disclosures to unlimited broadcast instrumentation - you arrive at a disastrous situation commonly called "too much information".
Of course, I'm in the information business, so I'm not against information. I just don't want too much of the unnecessary stuff. For instance, being a reluctant Facebook patron, I am daily reminded that one of my Facebook friends is having a birthday. An innocent factoid like this is already testing my limited capacity for this sort of stuff. I have no interest in other people's holidays or bar jaunts or weddings as they are depicted on social media. Save it, if you must, for more conventional methods of communication like conversation.
Let us look at the wider arena. Last week, we had several instances to support my argument.
After shooting his wife dead in their South Miami townhouse, Derek Medina, 31, posted a photo of her bloodied body to his Facebook page. Later in the week, we had a local example when convicted killer Phillip Edwards, 33, went on the run in Auckland after he kidnapped a young child.
Instead of waiting for his day in court, he went onto Facebook to defend himself.
Then perhaps the high-water mark of the trend was when Chicago broadcaster Scott Simon tweeted the last throes of his mother's death in a blow-by- intimate-blow account which unaccountably won him praise from around the globe.
What was he thinking? I know his mother was an actress, but did she really want the world to join her last gasps and listen in on her final conversations.
Could Scott not have sat quietly holding his mother's hand instead of constantly reaching for his iPhone to keep Twitter followers up to date.
It looked narcissistic, attention-seeking and ultimately disrespectful to his mother and the process of dying.
I agree we should be more open with death, another one of those taboos, but I'm not sure tweets from self-indulgent celebrities will advance our comfort with the final chapter.
Celebrities are unfortunately role models and I can see Scott's pioneering tweets on death becoming popular.
This is all a long way from the idea that the web would empower individuals and inevitably create something good.
I blame it all on the scientific principle that when you place a life-enhancing resource in front of people it will nine times out of 10 be filled up with nonsense or life- diminishing material.
More thoughtful commentators like Jaron Lanier, a Californian web pioneer who wrote the book You are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, about going sour on the internet, says web designers don't know the difference between quantity and quality. "So if you design something like Twitter where people are encouraged to say, 'Oh I just had a sandwich,' then of course it will be flooded."
What harm does all this do?
The main danger in wading in this morass of private information is we start forgetting what is important and what is trivial.
A bit like tourists trying to capture everything on their digital cameras rather than enjoying the moment, we are constantly thinking about telling everyone as quickly as possible about our thoughts and exploits instead of living our lives. And maybe we need to relearn the lesson that life is not all about Me.
- © Fairfax NZ News