TMI. LOL. BFF. TTYL. It’s fair to say that communication has changed drastically over the last couple of decades. Where once we would pick up the phone to call a close friend and dish about the latest news, we now fire off a 140 character message and broadcast that same info to hundreds or even thousands of friends and followers.
We all want to feel good about ourselves, so our natural inclination is to share the fantastic aspects of our lives: the fun concert, the cute baby pic, a job promotion, a photo of ourselves on a really good hair day. We focus on the best version of the truth, editing out the bad parts and instagramming the rest until we look shiny and gleamy and well-adjusted. Research supports our motivation to look good: “People with high self-esteem posting positive status updates [are] rewarded with more comments and ‘likes’ by their friends.” Converseley, those who don’t have a positive online presence receive negative reactions from their peers.
All of this immediacy offers us a strange new form of intimacy. We have more access to the everyday details of other people’s lives. But we can also hide the things we don’t want to share. What you see isn’t always what you get. When it comes to online presence, if you share only the good stuff, you’re bragging. And if you post too many negative remarks, you’re a Debbie Downer. Facebook and Twitter aren’t great platforms for big revelations. They encourage emotive, impulsive soundbites that fail to reveal the bigger picture. Someone’s in a bad mood, another is having a way better day than you are. It’s tough to relate to these tiny snippets because the motivation of the poster is so murky. That’s where blogs come in. Blogs allow us to say a lot or a little, to delve deep or skim the surface and, most importantly, to craft an ongoing narrative that shows more than one side of the story: a whole, imperfect human being.
There’s a little movement right now called “Things I’m Afraid to Tell You,” that was started by the blogger Jess Constable. She was tired of seeing only the pretty and perfect on blogs and challenged others to share the less glamorous aspects of their lives, their fears and imperfections. Design and lifestyle bloggers all over the net responded and posted lists of their not so positive traits: fear of rejection, failure, jealousy, marital troubles. Many were surprised to find that these intimate posts received the most views and positive feedback of any they’d ever written. Why do you think that is?
Maybe it’s because we’re being bombarded with bite after bite of the perfect and the depressing and not enough of the real. As our definition of intimacy morphs, we’re beginning to wonder whether there’s more meaning behind those pretty pictures and sarcastic tweets. We long for a more accurate version of the truth.
Here are a few things to think about before you impulsively hit publish on an emotional wall post or delete that difficult blog draft about a personal struggle:
What’s your motivation?
Why are you sharing something? Are you looking for an ego boost? Are you trying to make a person or group of people feel bad? Do you want to prove something to yourself or others? People can sense motivation in tone and content. As a reader, I can tell right away if someone is trying to position themselves as “better than” or begging for a bone. Share in order to connect, engage and help. Think about the why first and the what second.
Context is everything
You can share almost anything if it’s in the right context. You know those cryptic, one sentence posts you see on Facebook? Something along the lines of: “I knew this would happen again.” The poster has given us absolutely no context or back story. What happened again? Are they okay? Do they need help? Do they just want attention? Isn’t that what runs through your mind when you see that sort of one-liner? It’s the same with blog posts. Sometimes I walk away wondering why the heck someone shared so much information about their relationship because they never put it in the proper context. Revealing simply to unburden yourself is a bit selfish. Don’t just vent. Teach me something, make me feel, make me laugh, engage me, make a connection. If you can do that, you can reveal as much about yourself as you’d like, and I’ll be hanging on your every word.
How does it make you feel?
Sometimes we don’t share things because they make us feel vulnerable. We’re worried about being judged so we package ourselves as well-coiffed, perfect little bloggers. Vulnerability is a good thing. We can all stand to be more vulnerable in our daily lives and in our blogs. Vulnerability isn’t about over-sharing or jeopardizing your emotional well-being. It’s about pushing through the need to be seen a certain way and letting go of that vice-grip on image control.
Who will it help?
If there’s one thing blogging has taught me, it’s that a lot of people are struggling with the same difficult life choices. By sweeping all of the ugly, unpleasant stuff under the proverbial rug, we’re missing out on an opportunity to connect with and help others. Sharing the fact that I struggled with depression as an adolescent made me feel vulnerable. But I know that a lot of people have gone through or are currently going through the same thing. I’m free to bury it in the past and portray myself as perfectly well-adjusted. But I choose to share it in the hope that it will help someone else feel less alone.
Where do you weigh in on social media and selective sharing? Do you think we share too much or not enough? What do you feel comfortable sharing and why?