02/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Psychology of Sharing

At some point the anonymity of the Internet transformed into a social networking clearinghouse of daily minutiae and most of us willingly opted in, choosing the ease and comfort of virtual intimacy over a lonely existence of real world disconnectedness. And these communities blossomed, starting with close friends and family then expanding to include co-workers and long lost childhood chums, finally welcoming obscure acquaintances and total strangers with whom we've never had a face to face conversation. We decided that to know and be known was a good thing, but never really thought it through.

And now, regardless of who these people are or what their actual relationship to us might be, they are all granted equal access into every aspect of our lives. Sure, we still get to determine the details we allow them to see, but depending on how large and diverse our audience is, it becomes a complicated situation to navigate -- though one of our own design. Are we experiencing the existential crisis of our modern age? The reality might not be too far off.

Steven Levy points to the guilt he feels during those times when he consumes the information of others, ignoring his own blog and failing to keep people updated with a barrage of Tweets, yet when he is actively participating, instead of a sense of relief, he is left only with remorse. Asking himself the question "Am I giving away too much?"

Since I don't know many in this mob, I try not to be personally revealing. Still, no matter how innocuous your individual tweets, the aggregate ends up being the foundation of a scary-deep self-portrait. It's like a psychographic version of strip poker -- I'm disrobing, 140 characters at a time.

Every so often, I get a glimpse of the effects of tossing all this personal confetti to the winds. In November, I attended an industry conference, and so many people congratulated me on the Phillies World Series win that I felt like Chase Utley. How did they know I'm a Phillies fan? Duh, they read my dispatches from Citizen's Bank Park during game four. And if they're still following, they also know about my son's college plans, my recent travel itinerary, and the fact that I filed this column late.

Nicholas Carr likens the dilemma to the dynamic between celebrity and fan, examining the psychology from both perspectives. Our stars might want to regain some of the privacy they've lost to the public, but know at the same time that their popularity relies on remaining in the spot light and perhaps even crave the attention they receive. Whereas fans get to live vicariously through the lifestyles of their famous counterparts, hanging on their every failure and success, deep down thinking some combination of "I could do that" mixed with "Why don't I get to do that?"

Ultimately, the expectations on both sides of the equation are somewhat problematic -- a tangled mess of envy, regret, obligation, narcissism, self-consciousness and desire -- a fact that underscores the notion that maybe we're not really escaping ourselves by moving online after all, but merely amplifying the aspects that define us, for better or worse.

Assuming that it's too late to do the sensible thing and choose your "friends" carefully then like it or not, we're stuck with each other -- though we can always do the unthinkable and press "profile delete." So if this model of sharing -- instantaneous, ubiquitous and with varying degrees of significance -- will form our collective experience from here on out, then we're each going to have to simply figure out our own set of rules and adapt to the new landscape. We've been advised that acceptance is always a good place to start.

Rough Type: Nicholas Carr: Sharing is Creepy

Wired: Steven Levy on the Burden of Twitter

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