Blah Blah Blah Blah: Why Do We Detail the Minutia of Our Lives Online?
When I asked readers what they’d like me to cover within the very large social media spectrum, one intrepid commenter suggested I talk about what motivates people to update others on what they’re doing at any given moment.
(Sorry, hold on. I just remembered I need to “check into” the coffeeshop where I’m writing this.)
What was I saying? Oh yeah, blah blah blah blah.
Since it warmed my heart to know that not only did I have an actual reader, but an actual reader who gave a damn enough to comment, I wanted to bribe…I mean repay this caring reader by addressing the issue. Also because it happens to be a really good question.
(The caveat: of course this is not an exhaustive list of reasons, but just some that occurred to me and friends I polled on Facebook. What are your reasons for sharing what you’re doing at any given moment? Post them in the comments below.)
At first glance, the desire to say what you’re doing RIGHT NOW may seem narcissistic. In fact, much of social media might seem narcissistic. And while I would agree that there’s definitely an element of ego to this desire, I would also argue that at its heart, social media is about connection–connection to people and to information. The same is true for detailing what we’re doing at a particular moment.
Connection to people
Validation. If am sitting in 95N traffic on my way to visit my friend in Philadelphia, and I post on Facebook or tweet Stuck in 95 traffic on a Friday….again… $%#^%&*, do I really care that everyone knows that I’m bumper-to-bumper on 95? Probably not. Or at least not as much as I want someone to commiserate with me, OMG. 95 SUX.
Kindness. Extrapolate the above situation out to when someone is having a crappy day at work, is dealing with a crazy mother-in-law, or has a baby who hasn’t stopped crying for two hours straight. While the person may not have the emotional energy or time to call up a friend, it’s easy to throw up a quick post or tweet and then check back later to hear I’ve so been there–you can do it or Hang in there.
Networking. A friend posted on Facebook just after finding out she was going to be laid off. Within minutes I had spotted the post and emailed another friend who lived in her city to inquire about opportunities.
My cousin, who is a stay-at-home mom in-between acting gigs, often posts when she is taking her kids out to a park or playground so her friends and their children can meet up with her. Social media helps alleviate what I imagine as an isolating situation.
Performance. I once read an article suggesting we’ve all become class clowns online trying to outdo each other with the best one-liners. I’m not naturally funny, as my husband will tell you. But I have another friend whose status updates, even while they discuss the mundane details of her life, continually make me snort (Swedish bombshell, I’m looking at you).
Connection to information
News. Back to that I-95 example. If I’m suck in bumper-to-bumper, non-moving traffic and post or tweet about that, a friend may comment that a four-car collision has shut down portions of 95, and I better get off and find an alternate route. (Note, I would only advocate checking your Facebook mobile or Tweetdeck if the car is not moving.)
Crowdsourcing. When I’m about to do some baking and want a great banana bread recipe or I need thoughts about why people post the minutia of their lives online, I can post a question or tweet about it and receive responses almost instantaneously. Getting many responses helps provide a diversity of thought; the wisdom of the crowd trumps the wisdom of the one.
(I am looking forward to trying out Facebook’s new Questions feature when it rolls out, which will make crowdsourcing even easier.)
Family updates. I have a lot of cousins, second cousins, aunts and uncles, and so on, spread out all across the country. With Facebook, I can find out what they are all up to with a quick glance. I know that my one cousin is going to run a half marathon, my other just started a fantastic new job, and my other one just delivered a healthy baby girl. In turn, they can read that I love my graduate classes but am always pressed for time, and virtually travel with me to Italy.
Vanity. Who can resist the allure of posting the most recent fabulous picture or video of themselves, or the status update or tweet about how they’re doing something super fun? I don’t think a little vanity is a bad thing. I got 14 “likes” on Facebook after I posted a picture of my husband and me in motorcycle helmets during an impromptu cruiser lunch date. That was a great pick-me-up that day.
Chances are, someone is going to compliment you on the fabulosity of your picture, video, status update, or tweet. And we don’t compliment each other enough. Society is all about the takedown.
So what about you? Why do you share the play-by-play of your life online?
Or do you not? Why not?
I have friends and family who resist sharing the minutia of their lives online. They mainly maintain social media accounts to read about others’ lives and don’t think they have anything interesting to say. To them, I would urge, consider giving us more of yourself. I want to know what you are up to. I want to connect with you in this way.
Because, at its heart, I think social media is not about narcissism, but about realizing that we are really and truly not alone.
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