Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Does Someone You Know Need a Facebook Intervention?

This commercial is part of a new campaign for Visit Las Vegas which I just love.  It's one of a series of videos in which people are shunned by their friends for excessive tweeting and Facebook posting of their activities while in Las Vegas.  The idea, of course, is that broadcasting updates from Sin City goes against the code of "What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas".

One of the spots includes an intervention where a group of friends encourage a social media addict to own up to his problems.  They talk about how his actions have affected their own lives and promise that they'll help him get through the recovery process.  The campaign got me thinking about the whole concept of oversharing on social media sites and how much that phrase is open to interpretation.

As someone who works fiercely to protect my privacy, oversharing for me encompasses a much wider net than it would for most people.  I understand the importance of social media in our society and use it often for business but you will never see photos of my kids on the Internet or tales of how I partied with my girlfriends till 2 a.m. (assuming I would have the energy to do such a thing). When I tell people this, their reaction ranges from shock at my lack of social media savvy to begrudging agreement that it's a topic worth discussing to proclaiming that we luddites must band together to preserve the nostalgia of the good old days.  Everyone has their own privacy threshold and that's okay.  The brave new world enables us all to write our own rules, in theory anyway. One person's extremely inappropriate content is de rigueur for someone else.

My assumptions about oversharing were challenged recently when I had the opportunity to hear Jeff Jarvis speak at Third Tuesday Toronto. A veteran journalist, Jarvis is an associate professor at City College New York and an author who is frequently asked to comment on the role of social media.  Jeff's latest book, Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live, makes a case of increased "publicness" in our lives.  An Internet optimist, Jarvis feels that if we become too obsessed with online privacy and protection of information, we will miss out on all the valuable opportunities offered by the social web. Fortune magazine's review of Public Parts says his book is "not so much a rallying cry for tweeting your breakfast choices and blogging your company financials as it is a field guide for how to navigate the Internet with optimism rather than fear"

His talk was provocative - he argues his point elegantly and deals with detractors swiftly.  But, as I am an Internet pragmaticist rather than an Internet optimist, I found myself feeling squeamish at times, even when those around me were nodding and smiling in agreement.  One of Jeff's boldest statements was, "if you think people are oversharing, maybe you're overlistening".  I'm not sure what to make of this.  On the one hand, it's quite simple - if you don't like what you see and don't embrace the new sharing, then turn off and tune out.  On the other hand, can any of us with a significant number of pre-retirement years left really afford to tune out?  Probably not.  If we want to stay abreast of trends, feel current, promote our products and services and build our "personal brand", we have to "participate in the conversation" as they say.  That opens us up to all manner of oversharing - friends who post daily photos of the fun they're having, colleagues who tweet their every movement, family members who broadcast compromising photos of us without our permission.  And if you think breaking up with someone is hard, try telling a loved one that you think it would be better if they posted less updates on Facebook.

That said, I have a great capacity for self-preservation, so I will continue to explore the possibilities of the Internet, one of which is obviously the opportunity to share my musings on this blog.  I have Public Parts on my bedside table and as soon as I finish No Bullshit Social Media, I'll get into it.  I don't want to be left out of the loop after all.

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