The virtues of undersharing

Here is a post by Madeleine E. Robins on Book View Cafe: Life Lived Out Loud

Life is lived very publicly these days. For writers, who are told that Establishing a Media Presence is a requirement, it can be just another writing exercise. But when even middle schoolers worry about crafting an online persona*, the world has moved well past my mother’s adjuration not to tell Other People the family’s concerns. We’re all awfully comfortable with taking up, not just our own space, but the space of the people around me. I tend to lower my voice if I’m talking on a cell phone in public–both for the sake of my own privacy and so as not to thrust my business on the people sitting nearby. Not so the woman two seats away from me on BART who was chatting animatedly with someone about her visit to the gynecologist.

I am a private person by nature, I think; or at least I certainly am in comparison with the sort of person who would chatter away about personal topics in a public place. Seriously, I can’t even. But I also don’t worry a lot about “crafting a public persona.” It just feels natural to me to focus online on books and writing and puppies and flowers and funny cat videos and so on, and leave virtually all politics (say) strictly alone. But a lot of this is, I think, based on what I prefer other people to share, too. I will just never understand the urge to treat the entire world as a fitting venue for personal concerns.

But! I also have a more serious concern about social media and oversharing. Sometimes when scrolling through Twitter or Facebook I can’t help but wonder whether a) social media encourages a deleterious focus on the self and on one’s personal feelings; and b) this focus then tends to encourage rather than relieve feelings of anxiety, depression, and so forth.

I wonder whether some people who are heavily into social media don’t try to reach out for social support to people they aren’t genuinely connected to; people who can’t provide support in 140 characters; people who are not, in truth, close enough to be asked to provide support at all.

Granted, I’m not inclined to completely give up either Twitter or Facebook. I like both, though I’m enjoying Facebook more now that I have a phone that can actually reliably get to Facebook. I very much appreciate the glimpses into the lives of various relatives (goodness, Meagan must be SO ready to have that baby; I have never seen anyone more pregnant in my life!) and all kinds of pictures and links.

I just wonder whether it might not be better to recover, as a society, a sense of the difference between personal and public and between friends and acquaintances. To recover, let us say, a general feeling that reticence can be a positive virtue rather than a synonym for repression.

Though I won’t be holding my breath to see that kind of trend.

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13 thoughts on “The virtues of undersharing”

  1. I won’t either, but agree it would be healthier in the long run.

    BTW, did you notice Patricia McKillip had an article up on

  2. No, I haven’t remembered to check out for a while! I will go over there and look at McKillip’s post, and thanks for the pointer.

  3. I’m not on twitter, but my husband uses it to promote our research and follow what other colleagues are up to. We have a strict rule though – no pictures of our kid on social media. We share pictures with family via email, but no Facebook, etc.

  4. Sarah, I recall following one blogger who suddenly stripped all the pictures of her (very cute) little daughter off the internet — this was before Facebook and so on — because evidently she found out about a pedophile “shopping” for pictures of little kids that way. Ugh. Limiting kid pictures strictly to family sounds like probably a good precaution.

  5. It’s also dangerous because a lot of devices tag photos with gps data, so you might be providing a lot more info than you think.

  6. Sarah, I didn’t even know that. Ouch. Yeah, that’s definitely something to keep in mind before posting pictures of your child.

  7. While parents should do what makes them comfortable, I’m pretty sure that danger doesn’t pass the lightning test. (I.e. “Should you worry about it more than about randomly getting struck by lightning?”)

    Total stranger abductions of children are on the order of something like a hundred a year. The number that could possibly involve elaborate “shopping” on Facebook or whatever (which, why?) could only be a fraction of that. Driving to the store is an immeasurably greater risk to kids than putting a snap of them up on the web.

    Overwhelmingly most abuse is, unfortunately, via family and acquaintanceship connections, and no one’s going to keep kids from spending time with family and friends, or from participating in sports or church clubs or day care on that bases.

    But again, parents should do what doesn’t make them nervous, especially when there’s minimal harm. It’s not as if not having kid pictures on the web is a great hardship. (As an amateur photographer I’d regret it if my nieces or nephews fell under such a parental stricture. But of course I’d respect it if asked.)

  8. Mike, it’s probably a little bit a hazard of my job, but I get really concerned about people not understanding what they’re sharing. While most people would be fine, there are exceptions. Say, if you’ve got an estranged relative, for example. Also, if you’re a public figure of any sort you’ve got to worry a little about crazies.

  9. Absolutely. Having specific known risks like a stalker or a malicious ex can change the situation a great deal. (What responses make sense depends on the specifics, of course.) Just as it doesn’t make sense to worry about razor blades in Halloween candy (never happens, worry more about visibility of costumes to passing traffic), but it does to worry about inobvious peanut-based ingredients if a child has a peanut allergy (totally safe for most, deadly to kids with the allergy).

    I also agree with Rachel that a lot of sharing is indecorous even where it’s not actually a safety hazard.

  10. Mike, I’m sure you’re right — this woman actually found out someone was collecting pictures of her particular child. Probably he was just collecting *pictures*, but why let him have even those?

    but I too would miss kids-of-cousins pictures if they disappeared.

  11. Sorry for the long & late comment–I’ve been thinking about this a lot since you posted it. For what it’s worth, my background is that I have some anxiety-depression combination, higher on the anxiety than depression. And I’m active on several online platforms, most notably Twitter.

    It’s interesting because my experience is that there’s always a tension here. Twitter can be great for saying, “Hey, having a bad day, could use virtual hugs” and getting them almost instantly. It’s also sometimes an exacerbating factor if I’m already having a rough time. I try to monitor how it affects my mood and mental state and get off if I need to.

    But the other factor is that I think talking honestly about how different people experience mental health and mental illnesses can be very valuable. And obviously, there’s a place for longer essays on this, but there’s also (in my opinion) a place for “Having a high anxiety day, here’s what that looks like for me.” There have been a couple of times when other people have shared things that made me realize that things I thought were just me are actually probably anxiety.

    I guess my point is that, as with everything, different approaches are going to work with different people. But also that for me there’s value in sharing, not as a self-focus, but as a way to reach out and potentially support other people.

  12. Maureen, I know it’s awkward, because I totally don’t want to re-stigmatize mental health issues now that we’re finally (maybe) moving toward more openness about these problems. I’m sure different people experience social media differently, too. I think you’re wise to step away from Twitter and other social media when you can tell it’s not working for you, and I worry about those who may have more trouble telling when they should step back.

    Thanks for your comment; it’s definitely useful to note the reaching-out aspect of social media rather than, or in addition to, the possible problem with focusing on the self.

  13. I think the key is finding what works for you! I certainly don’t want to make it sound like everyone has to talk about their problems all the time. Some people don’t want to talk about their personal life and that’s certainly valid.

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