Sharing used to be reserved for recipes, and at that, there was a certain degree of restraint involved. I remember when my aunt didn't really want my mother to have the secret to her amazing chopped liver (a small amount of horseradish) so she conveniently left it off the ingredients list.
That was, of course, long before the Internet. Sharing is now what we do. We tell the world about when we get divorced -- it is euphemistically known as a "relationship status change." We discuss our "pathological fear of childbirth" aloud online. We share how we feel about our "fat naked" bodies, our open marriages and our jobs after we quit them and why our partner's weight gain makes us not want to have sex with him anymore. Some even broadcast on Facebook when their daughters start to menstruate. Frankly, it's gotten a little too much for me.
We share. We all share. Sharing is the new normal. But maybe some are oversharing?
I'll preface this by saying that to each, his own comfort level. I'm not judging what you share or your decision to do it. I just don't really understand the upside -- or need -- to let strangers know your every innermost thought. I'm at the point where I don't click on any story with "SO BRAVE" or "COURAGEOUS" in the headline because those have become buzzwords for a post about someone confessing something; it's my own personal early warning alert system for over-sharing.
Just recently, HuffPost blogger Sharon Greenthal took on Mommy bloggers who share things about their small children. Those ugly cry-face tantrums that seem so adorable to Mommy bloggers are going to one day come back and bite them in the relationship bum, she opined. "Be careful about those posts that make them look bratty, stupid, spoiled, klutzy, ungrateful or out of control," wrote Greenthal. "No one wants to be reminded of their worst days, even from when they were tiny kids." Indeed, imagine being a Middle School girl and have someone unearth the ugly cry-face photos that your trusted mother posted 10 years ago. Not a happy dinner conversation that night, I'm betting.
Hoping for greater understanding about why spilling your guts online is a good thing, I turned to the Masters of Sharing -- the guys behind Whisper, the free mobile networking app that lets you post your secrets anonymously. Certainly the numbers suggest that mine is a minority view in this share-and-let-share world. Since its inception less than two years ago, Whisper has grown to 3.5 billion page views a month. The average user visits Whisper 10 times a day and a large percentage don't come just to read the secrets of others; they are posting their own confidences. While adults of all ages have "whispered," the bulk of the audience is 18 to 25 and female. On average, a user spends about 20 minutes a day on Whisper.
According to Whisper's new editor-in-chief, Neetzan Zimmerman (formerly of Gawker), Whisper gives users "a safe haven to unburden their fears and unexpressed desires." Whereas Facebook demands your identity, Whisper is anonymous. "It's a powerful emotion to know you can say something in a public space and still be guarded from the consequences of your admission," said Zimmerman. "It can't come back to haunt you." You can worry aloud about coming out to your parents, whether you'll ever meet your special someone, you can talk about how much you hate your body, how depressed you are -- all popular topics on Whisper -- and by and large get the support of strangers. Whisper has a pretty impressive track record for comment moderation; you'll never mistake the site for Reddit and its haters. Whisper serves as an online support community for those with cancer or chronic illnesses. Sharing on the site helps people understand that they are not alone in feeling the way they do, Zimmerman said.
While Facebook, noted Zimmerman, was once the principal domain where young people went to share, now older folks -- read: parents -- have joined the site en masse. That has served as sort of a youth-repellent. "Younger users are looking for a judgment-free zone -- something free of a watchful eye of the adults in their life," Zimmerman said. It's why young people are dumping Facebook in favor of other Whisper and other outlets.
Sharing is really nothing new, say the folks behind Whisper. It's the old "tell the guy sitting next to you on the plane your life story." While on the plane, the connection made feels as deep and real as any other. But when the plane lands, you say "thanks for listening," and walk down the plane ramp back into the arms of your real life, never to see your seat mate again. That, in a nutshell, is what has moved online, says Zimmerman.
When Whisper co-founder Michael Heyward speaks to groups, he asks those in the room who are virgins to raise their hand. He's never seen a single hand raised, he said. He then passes out blindfolds, dims the lights and repeats the request. Generally about a third of the room puts their hands up. He uses this exercise to show what anonymity can bring to the experience of sharing, he said.
Me? I may remain a skeptic about the benefits of sharing too much -- for one simple reason. And it's something I'm about to share for the first time: To those who I've sat next to and spoken at length with on airplanes, my name really isn't Greta.