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Margaret Weinberg Headshot

To Share or Not to Share

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I've always been a relatively private person. So, needless to say, when I took a class based solely on reflective, personal writing last year, I had a difficult time. It seemed that every other kid in the class had no problem pouring their hearts and lives on to paper. When the teacher announced that we would have a confidentiality code for our class, everyone nodded as if that made perfect sense. Meanwhile, I was confounded that I would be expected to write things that required a confidentiality code. Now there is something to be said for being open to a degree, for our lives and experiences are what shape our writing, after all. However, I felt that there was no line between private and public information, and while this may be partially reflective of me, I think it is also reflective of a consistently changing aspect of our society -- a society that progressively values reticence less and less.

Why would our society be shifting in this manner? The answer may be, quite simply, that it is because we see an extreme degree of openness almost everywhere we look. On social networking sites, we can track a mere acquaintance's every move. We know when they're sad, when they're happy, what the highlight of their day was, and what they thought of that movie they just watched. As of the most recent Facebook update, we even know where they were when they posted that status. We see their embarrassing pictures, we know when they've broken up with their significant other, but we may have never even exchanged more than a handful of words with them.

This strange level of intimacy goes beyond even those people we've met. Not only do we know everything about everyone we know, we know an interesting level of personal information about complete strangers. Take for instance my personal favorite, the Dear Girls Above Me Blog. In this blog, a man who can hear everything his neighbors above him say, records some of the funnier anecdotes, complete with his witty responses. Hundreds of people are essentially eavesdropping on their conversations, listening to all those silly things you say when you think no one can hear. Then there's another Internet gem: PostSecret. On this popular site, people can send in their secrets on postcards, which are then posted on a blog. The secrets range from disturbing and dark to funny, but whatever they are, they're the type of thing you would usually never know about someone unless you were very close. Finally, there is the One Sentence blog, where people take their stories (whether they be sad or silly) and sum them up in one sentence, for the world to see.

These are just a few examples of an increasing level of private information being displayed for the public. Whether they are a stranger or a close friend, they are redefining the difference between public and private information. It's no wonder that our society feels more and more like we have to reveal everything; bare it all in a high school essay or a Facebook status. From the Internet, to the celebrity affairs plastered across tabloids, the world seems to be screaming that nothing is off-limits, and that our lives exist to be revealed.

It's undeniable that as a population we have become increasingly open, but the real question is, is this good or bad? On the one hand, it's healthy to talk about things. We all have experienced at some point the negative consequences of keeping our emotions and secrets bottled up inside. A societal shift towards being able to share our thoughts and feelings more freely is a positive one. On the other hand, there is something to be said for reticence as well. The way I see it, your story is something to be cherished. It shouldn't be held from the world, but it shouldn't be thrown out without any discretion either. And in a world where we know everything about everyone, it's important to remember that not everyone needs to know everything about us.