EVEN MORE THOUGHTS OF A CHRONIC OVERSHARER
Why I don't mind sharing large chunks of my life online
I like sharing things online. I like it a lot.
This goes back before social media took over the world and changed the way we maintain friendships and interact… I always liked the idea of being able to have a well-organized archive of bits and pieces that make up my life.
Once upon a time it was giving all of my middle school friends “shoutouts” in the profile section of AOL Instant Messenger.
Then it turned into making sure my taste in music was well documented as it evolved over Myspace.
The tides turned again, and in college I became a savvy blogger. Random occurrences suddenly turned into fodder for a little audience I had online. What started as an online journal where I’d post little vignettes from day-to-day life that I wouldn’t want to forget ended up with an unexpected following. Before I knew it, I had people in Ohio, Michigan, Colorado, and Sweden following along with my everyday adventures.
This sort of thing is now commonplace, but back then it was harder to explain to people why this wasn’t so creepy.
Over the years, my digital mediums have changed, but I’ve still left a trail of pixels that more or less tell the story of the things I’ve done, the places I’ve seen, and how I’ve ended up being who I am today. It’s a pretty fun thing to look back on.
I can take a look at the pictures I posted when I first started getting into photography. Some of them are ones that make me wish I could relive an old trip, just so I could improve some of the photos. Others remind me of people I haven’t spoken to in far too long and places that I missi being able to go on a daily basis. Sometimes I’ll look at a visual timeline of photos and be amazed at how one string of events in life can lead to totally different circumstances.
I can go over old blog posts, as I learned life lessons that have stuck with me. There are times when I’ll read an old piece of writing and think, man, I was trying way too hard. Then other times, I’ll be surprised at how well I was able to articulate an epiphany I nearly forgot about.
I’ll look over and read old song lyrics I wrote, back when I challenged myself to write a new set every day and post them on Tumblr every day. There are a few diamonds in the rough, and there are a certain handful that remind me of a crush, a smile, an unexpected burst of sympathy felt towards Sudan.
Sure, journaling is nothing new. The art of living life and writing it down goes as far back as writing itself, pretty much. But there’s something I appreciate about being able to see life from a distance in the form of an online archive. Having the big picture in sight has always helped bring out the gratitude.
Is it also a form of digital narcisism? Sure. I don’t doubt that there’s some of that going on. And I try not to kid myself about interested I think everybody is in minute details of my life. Over the years, I’ve tried to trim the fat and not post things unless I really think it adds value to people’s life in some way.
I’ll say this much, though. It’s fun to have people along for the ride. There’s that blurb at the end of Into The Wild where Chris McCandless scribbles into his journal of all places, happiness isn’t real unless shared.
I guess that sums up my preference for sharing online instead of keeping track of everything more privately.
I had a friend who once told me that he didn’t really feel like he had anything to talk to me about anymore, with how much I put online and all. It irked me. For a second there, I wondered if the suggestion might be true. If my digital self was starting to take over parts of my life I’d rather keep analog.
That wasn’t the case.
For starters, I think a good conversation trigers further conversations. There’s more to talking to someone than just reporting stories, which is pretty much what I do online. It’s somewhere within the back-and-forth that new ideas build off each other and take on legs of their own.
And there are still at least a couple of big personal moments, stories, and struggles that I have yet to share anywhere online. These are things I can be fairly candid about in person, depending on how well I know a person. I may have a very generous filter, but I still have a filter.
I still know I fit the profile of a classic oversharer, and I accept that and try to make fun of myself regularly. In spite of all that, I get a lot of amusement and appreciation out of my pixel trail and have little to no regrets about how much I’ve shared.
I think I understand why we worry about oversharing. We’ve all seen our share of Twilight Zone episodes that make us realize the dystopia of living in a society where everything is made public. But maybe knowing more about other people and being better known wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Maybe a greater understanding of the things that scare us and motivate us would make us less judgemental of the choices people make. Maybe if we knew that the things we do in secret will one day be revealed, we’d be able to live with a whole lot more integrity and honesty.
At the very least, here are a few reasons why I’m okay with how much I’ve shared.
1) I get some control over my narrative
People are by nature pretty nosey, and when people start wondering about details of your life, there will be a story they tell themselves.
Like, when a politician refuses to share the details of what happened at a meeting with another world leader, you know everybody starts making up in their heads what they think happened.
Okay, so my life is nowhere near as intriguing as international espionage, but the tendencies of human nature still hold true. By being somewhat proactive about the stories tell about you, you’ll help resolve some of those curiosities. Of course, you never have full control over what people say about you, but it’s better than allowing all imaginations to run wild.
I’ve also found the process of trying to clarify my own life online to be a healthy practice. At several points, my online writing has forced me to ask the question of what I want my life to be about and how I can best use my time to help others. Reevaluating this for myself has been plenty beneficial.
2) I leave behind a more complete digital footprint
There’s no predicting the future and how technology will change, but it wouldn’t be a total surprise if in a hundred years, our great grandkids will be able to read a whole bunch of primary sources about what life was like at the turn of the millenium.
When I think of the paper trail my great grandparents have left behind, I have an envelope’s worth of photos, verbal anecdotes I can sort of remember my grandma telling me, an heirloom ring, and an eight page memoir.
That’s about it. If there was more there, I would love to go through it.
We just might be the first generation to leave those that follow us with a more robust sense of where they come from. Barring some digital apocalypse, of course.
Sure there’s the chance that by the time a century passes, there will be too much information out there that nobody can navigate it, but judging by how well Ancestry.com performs, there will always be a curiosity about where we come from.
I know some people who restrict the things they share online to a small portion of who they are. I get turned off by people who only post political opinions when I know they’re also made up of personal victories, big dreams, and uncertainties. Some people only post work-related things. Some people lead me to believe they’re doing nothing all day but that workout plan they’re trying to sell me.
As people, our lives are so multidimensional, and I’d love my digital representation to reflect that to some extent. I also love being able to track the journey that I’ve taken.
All throughout Jewish scripture, there are plenty of examples of God telling the people of Israel to build monuments to remember moments where he brought them out of a bad situation. While my amateur-edited photos from 2010 aren’t as impressive as a stone monument from Ancient Israel, they serve much of a similar function. Remembering my journey thus far makes me feel grateful for the past and hopeful for the future.
3) At the end of the day, it’s just plain fun
Not to point out the obvious, but I probably wouldn’t be such a wholehearted adopter of a digital social life if I wasn’t having a lot of fun doing it. I know I feel a greater sense of appreciation, empathy, and connection to my friends when they share things that go beyond the obvious and when I get to take a deeper look at who they are and what makes their worlds go around.
It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, no matter how much you put online about yourself, it’ll never be the full story. Even if you really tried to turn yourself into the Truman Show, you’d always miss some big, hard-to-understand aspect about what makes you who you are. That’s one of the most fascinating parts of being human. People are like entire galaxies in and of themselves, there’s so much to be unearthed.
But speaking of worlds to be explored, the online world is simply a newborn medium, and it’s one with a lot of power. There were moments in history where people worried about what mass printing would do to our abilities to communicate in person. Now, it’s hard to find a person who doesn’t acknowledge the value and power of books.
It’s a phenomenal time to be alive. And I’m glad I have some technology aided ways of seeing what I’ve done with the time I’ve been giving.