It is Timothy Egan’s opinion, in a December 2011 Times op ed piece, Please Stop Sharing, especially now with the ease of access to internet technology and in particular Facebook and Twitter, that we’re sharing too much. Are we? Can we ever share, go public with too much of ourselves? In important senses isn’t sharing what life is all about?
Well yes, he is right on occasion, as in the example he cites of former Representative Anthony D. Weiner, becoming in Egan’s words, “the saddest of the digital exhibitionists.” But was it sharing, or perhaps how, and even more what he was sharing that was at fault in Weiner’s case?
Without a doubt what’s happening and what Egan is describing is new. Facebook, Twitter and all the other APPs on our digital devices are propelling us full speed ahead we know not where. And we definitely should try to understand what’s happening. Maybe even ask if it’s a good thing? Is it? Or if we decide it isn’t should we conclude with Egan that we’ve gone too far in this public sharing of ourselves, and reverse direction?
Most likely for the centuries, much longer, the thousands, tens of thousands of years of homo sapiens’ presence on the blue planet, anonymity was the rule, and twittering was for the birds. But that of course can’t mean that things always have to be that way. In so many other respects we have left those tens of thousands of mostly private and unknown worlds far behind us.
For some reason Egan seems to feel that anonymity was and still is a good thing, and that we ought to treasure it, not so readily fling it overboard as we sail or fly into the brave new world of sharing ourselves on the internet with hundreds or thousands of others most of whom we couldn’t possibly know let alone be their friends.
Egan says that “people he once admired, even looked up to — smart, literate, funny folks — have gone down several notches in my estimation after they decided to reveal their every idiotic observation via Twitter.”
The evidence for this? He gives us these three “idiotic” tweets of a good friend:
“Stuck in traffic. OMG, this light is long!” “Just had the best burrito of my life!” “Saw my first deliveryman on a Segway. — how cool is that?”
My reaction to these tweets? I didn’t think they were idiotic. Not at all. I thought them neat and that it was cool that we were able to get that close to someone else, not even with the status of a “stranger,” but someone whose very existence was only known to me before, if at all, as a statistic, being just one of seven or more billion people on the earth, one whose anonymous existence (for me) would otherwise never have touched my no less anonymous existence. If nothing else the tweets do make him come alive to me, …and if I were to tweet in return?
Egan thinks differently. Not very cool, he says:
“Not very, actually. Where did this compulsion for light confession come from? In part, surely, from narcissism, a trait as ancient as our species. But at least Narcissus could only stare at his own reflection until it killed him.” Does he mean by that that this present Facebook/Twitter obsession is going to kill us?
The number of people we know in this life through direct contact is tiny, for some of us maybe only a wife, children, grand children and a few friends, a few people at work. Most of the people we know, or know of, reach us if at all through their public communications, through their sharing.
OK, my now knowing Egan’s friend, X, through his observations about the length of a traffic light, a liking for burritos, and his curiosity about the Segway is pretty thin stuff compared to what others, perhaps through a story, a song, or their role in a sports event, or other production, have done to make themselves known to the public.
When I think about it, I myself do a lot of sharing on my Blog, tweeting, although not yet on Facebook, and I have no idea if my mostly idle commentary is of any interest to anyone, in fact whether it’s seen or read by anyone, whether it’s any “cooler” than the tweets mentioned. And it may be that what I’m doing is much like looking in a pool of water, at my image in a mirror.
But how many of us live our lives without ever looking in a mirror? Can we really get along without it? And isn’t it our intention on Twitter and Facebook, unlike whatever the intentions of Narcissus may have been, that others may enjoy, if not learn from, what we have found in ourselves and have made public and they can now share?
Although I never thought that I was alone to be irritated when stuck in traffic and waiting for the light to change, nor any less alone to like burritos and be curious about the glimpse of that Segway that I do catch sight of from time to time, reading someone else’s tweets echoing my own thoughts even on such little things (also occasionally big things) does make me feel a bit less alone. And that may be the best explanation why some 200,000,000 Americans are active users of Twitter and Facebook.