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Too Much Information

How much sharing is oversharing?

Friday, 20 June 2014

It’s Friday afternoon. You’re scrolling through your newsfeed, liking the occasional meme and cat video. Then you see it. A status update that shares way too much information about a friend, family member or acquaintance’s personal life.

The post could be an album of bikini selfies or an update on the latest event in a lovers’ tiff. It could be a rage against a former partner over a custody battle, or a daily check in at “the love shack”. While the subject may vary, what we all have in common is a Facebook friend who shares just a little too much.

Before the rise of social media and the invention of sexting, the line between private and public was clear. Now, no one’s really sure where the boundary is and it seems as though nothing is off limits.

Last year Edward Snowden likened today’s technological landscape to George Orwell’s 1984. While the idea of a Big Brother prosecuting us for thoughtcrimes seems a little far-fetched, McCann’s latest Truth Study findings reveal privacy is a concern for many.

The Truth Study revealed that 70% of people worry about the erosion of privacy. On the surface this isn’t a surprising statistic, but when placed in the context that people worry about privacy more than they do about climate change, oil shortages, terrorism, pandemics and nuclear power, we found it pretty interesting.

Some experts point the blame at celebrities. Celebrities are the original oversharers and because of this, perhaps we have developed an inflated sense of self importance, a delusional belief that our virtual friends actually care about what we ate for lunch.

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Status update: Worst. Date. Ever. 

The science behind oversharing dates back to before we could tweet, Instagram and hashtag. People tend to babble when they’re trying to impress someone and they end up on a weird, awkward tangent. The same response transposes onto social media, however a passing awkward silence in conversation is much more easily forgotten than a cringeworthy post etched into the walls of the interwebs forever.

Psychology experts say there is a link between oversharing and anxiety. Anxious types spend a lot of time worrying about how they are perceived, and sharing thoughts and photos on social media is a kind of overcompensation for their insecurities.

Studies show that social media likes can even be addictive. Researchers at Harvard found that sharing our personal thoughts and feelings online, and receiving likes, favourites and retweets, activates our brains’ reward systems.

Another, simpler, explanation is that it’s just too damn easy to overshare. We’re always switched on, and the internet constantly prompts us to like, share, check in, Instagram and hashtag #insertbarhere everywhere we go.

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We can only imagine what babies would share if they could tweet. 

As much as we criticise constant check-ins and the barrage of selfies, if we didn’t care for other people’s private lives, we probably wouldn’t spend on average 7 hours on Facebook per week.

10 million people wouldn’t follow Kim on Instagram. The news stories about Lara Bingle’s latest topless selfie wouldn’t regularly feature as the most popular on news.com.au.

So when it comes to too much information, perhaps it is the conversational equivalent of feigning interest in the second piece of cake. You really want it, but you act like you don’t. Eventually we always accept. With reluctance, of course.