October 6, 2013

Are We Over-Sharing?

Mental illness! Drugs! Suicide! Homelessness! Abuse! Food!

The words and images ring out from my blogs like carnival barkers trying to draw marks into the tent of the tattoo’ed lady and the two headed calf.

I’m not the only one. “Look at these vaginas!” one article cries. “I am a former sex slave!” shouts another.

I see pictures of refrigerators full of breast milk and puppies laying on their backs with their genitals exposed. I hear detailed accounts of “the most awesome marriage proposal ever!”, the “funny thing my kid said today #what’sapenisfor? #parentingrules,” and am privy to personal altercations tossed like so many McDonald’s wrappers all over Facebook.

We moderns take our own pictures, articulate every thought and expose ourselves habitually like compulsive streakers from the 70’s.

And it’s not just the big stuff.

We’re documenting cups of tea, a salad we ate, conversations we had via text, our pedicures, our manicures, our abs, our cocktails, our new shoes, and horses photoshopped to look like unicorns, which we are “obsessed with.”

We’re posting sayings and quotes, testifying to our own boredom, and wondering out loud whether we should get the Jimmy John’s #13 or the #15. (I’ll take the #13 no mayo, please.) The great sandwich quandry bounces around space via the internet long after the actual sandwich has been eaten, leading me to wonder whether “Freaky fast” actually just means “freaky”.

What drives us to this behavior?

I can only speak for myself. Which I do, and at great length every single day anyway, so why stop now?

When I was a kid, I felt profoundly lonely. The twin facts of my not being socially adept and the constant relocation of our family every year or two combined to make me one pathetic child indeed. I climbed trees and hid out for hours eating potato chips and staring down at the other kids playing stick ball or hide and seek, I ran away into the woods with my dog, luxuriating in the alone-ness because it’s impossible to say something stupid when there’s no one there to listen, and I generally avoided all human contact like other people avoid poison ivy.

Naturally, as much energy as I put into being alone, I longed for connection. Everyone does. Human beings are social animals, and if that wasn’t such a predominant trait, things like telephones, ice cream socials and of course, social media, wouldn’t exist.

As I reflect on the range of information I over share, I begin to wonder if I have multiple sharing motives.

Let’s break it down.

Pictures of every day objects or lighthearted comments, which may or may not be of interest to anyone but me.

I post these because I get pretty excited about the small moments in life which can so easily slide by unnoticed. If I see a bizarre mushroom, or make a delicious soup, or catch my dog standing on top of the kitchen table, I feel happy. I’m hoping a picture or a word about these things will make other people smile too.

I certainly reap a lot of enjoyment from other people’s sharing of similar subjects.

My mom recently suggested that it looks like I’m “bragging” when I post certain things, notably food I’ve made. That (weirdly) never even entered my mind, but I can see her point. Now I wonder, does everyone think I’m bragging when I put up pics of roasted cauliflower? I surely hope not.

Articles (like this one) examining my interior world, past experiences, and thoughts on weighty subjects in general.

I feel like I have 43 years of personal expression to catch up with. The advent of Facebook and blogging and the whole virtual universe has opened up the world to me, a formerly very solitary person. A lifelong writer, I’ve always had a relentless drive to put on paper what is happening in my mind.

The act of writing itself is as basic a need to me as is food, water or shelter.

Like most writers over the age of 30, I labored in total obscurity for years as I tried to untangle the big balls of yarn in my brain. That’s just the way we did things in the old days. Occasionally someone got a book deal, and then their words would become public, but aside from family, friends, open mic nights and writer’s workshops, most writers never really exposed their work or themselves whether they wanted to or not.

Many writers still operate this way.

Not me. I’ve chosen to stand on the mountaintop and sing my song no matter how off key I may be. It’s been a relief to come out of hiding. Publicly telling the tough stories I have to tell has done many things for me: it’s given me a sense of connection to a huge number of human souls, a feeling of empowerment. I’m taking ownership once and for all for the bad choices I’ve made in my life has made has liberated me, and filled me with hope—hope that my writing means something more than midnight scribbles on a soon-to-be-forgotten page.

No longer do you have to be famous, or have a book deal, or even any talent, to have a public voice, and while this does saturate the air waves with a lot of nonsense, I heartily support it.

So, in answer to my question, am I over sharing? I think I am.

But I have no plans to stop. I hope only to proceed with caution, because there have been some mis-steps and hurt feelings along the way.

I must only tell my story, to the best of my ability, while trying to protect those on the perimeter of my stories from getting sucked into my purge. Not everyone feels like being as candid as I’m being, and those who don’t, justifiably don’t take well to being outed.

I must also gauge the importance, or let’s say, the taste level, of what I share. If it’s not truly beautiful, delicious, important, well intended, thought provoking or revelatory, I need to keep my mouth shut.

As to the question, are you over sharing? Only you can answer that.

What I am sure of is, that despite all this silliness technology incites us to, it has also allowed people to touch each other’s lives in unexpected, and often profound, ways.

To that I say huzzah!

Let the babbling and camera snapping commence. You never know when your words or pictures may bring light to someone’s dark day, or when sharing them may bring light into yours.


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Ed: Catherine Monkman

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